RALEIGH -- The Wake County school board is talking construction and school needs, which could mean more money out of Wake taxpayers' pockets.
Wake County public schools are growing by about 4,000 students a year, so within five years the schools will be overcrowded by about 20,000 students.
In anticipation of that growth, the facilities committee is looking now at where the county needs to build new schools, how many, and how much it will cost.
“If we're not building the schools now, we're only going to get further and further behind,” said school board member Jim Martin, who is also on the board's facilities committee.
School administrators predict the county could need to build as many as 24 new schools within the next five years. On top of that, they're also looking at a laundry list of major renovation needs for schools that will soon be more than 40 years old.
“The renovations, we're already behind,” Martin said. “We've got 900,000 square feet that need to be addressed and within five years, they said another 400,000 [square feet]. If you don't take care of your house or your car, it only gets worse.”
To pay for it, the county would have to ask voters to approve a bond. The current wish list could easily cost about $1 billion.
“One billion dollar bond isn't going to happen,” said board member Chris Malone, Chair of the facilities committee. “It just isn't going to happen. No one is going to vote for it, number one, and we're not going to propose it. Certainly I would not support it. [We need] something smaller, something more modest. The thought that rolls in my mind is $250 [million], $300 million, maybe as much as $400 [million], but that's starting to stretch it. I'm thinking $250 [million] or $300 [million]. That's what I'm more comfortable with. We need to keep the taxpayer in mind while at the same time meeting capacity restrictions.”
“I don't think we're even at the stage to talk about the dollar value to the bond,” Martin said. “I think our job is to look at the needs and lay out the needs and then we can start talking about the dollar value. If we start talking about the dollar value first, I'm not saying don't be aware of it, but if you start talking about the dollar value first, you're not going to make the wise decisions.”
A bond between $250 million and $400 million won't even come close to covering the county's growing educational needs.
“We're not going to be able to have a bond that covers all of these things,” Martin said. “That's why I've been saying for a long time we need to get past a 'crisis to bond,' 'crisis to bond' funding mechanism.
No matter how much the school bond ends up being, it will likely lead to an increase in Wake County property taxes.
The school board hopes to decide by the end of the year which construction projects will be on their list for the school bond request. It could go to citizens for a final vote as early as next spring.