RALEIGH — Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill defended the need for the upcoming school construction bond issue Friday against what he calls myths being spread by opponents of the plan.
Critics of the $810 million school bond issue on the Oct. 8 ballot have fired a variety of charges, such as that schools are being built too expensively, that enrollment projections are unreliable and that so many new seats aren’t needed now.
But Merrill said misinformation is being spread about the bonds – such as that marble floors are being built in schools.
“There are a few misperceptions and myths out there that we hear sometimes that are a little comical,” Merrill said Friday at the N.C. State University Club during a speech before the League of Women Voters of Wake County, which supports the bond issue.
Early voting has begun on a bond measure that would pay for most of a $939.9 million construction program that includes 16 new schools, six major renovation projects, smaller repairs at 79 schools and other projects.
One area of scrutiny from critics is how Wake recently opened the $75 million Rolesville High School, which is the most expensive and largest school in the district’s history. School board candidate Don McIntyre has questioned the school’s cost, saying “we don’t need marble floors.”
“That would be nice, I suppose,” Merrill quipped about the school having marble floors, saying in reality they’re just concrete floors with a polished finish.
Critics of the bond issue also have focused on the cost of renovations, with several projects costing as much as – if not more than – a new school. Some schools would be largely rebuilt, with the Garner High renovation projected to cost $67.1 million.
“There comes a point where you’ve got to look at those facilities and say it’s time to start over again,” Merrill said.
Duane Cutlip, vice president of the East Wake Republican Club, said the district wouldn’t have to spend so much on renovations if it did a better job of maintenance.
Teacher pay issue
Merrill said another misconception is that instead of school construction the school system should use the bond money for giving raises to teachers. While he’d like to give raises, Merrill said bond money can’t be used for recurring expenses.
Tony Pecoraro, vice president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, said the county would be better off using money that would go toward repaying the bond debt instead on teachers. Passage of the bond issue would raise property taxes on the average Wake County home by $145.72 a year.
“I’d be happy to give the extra $12 a month if they were supporting teachers,” Pecoraro said in an interview Friday.
The taxpayers association also has talked about recouping some of the 2,200 classrooms that are used for things such as band, music and special-education students.
“Where will we sing?” Merrill said. “Where will we create our artwork? Special-education students are required to have classrooms with lower ratios.”
‘Not a simple answer’
Merrill added that another myth is that Wake can add more trailers to get by without a bond issue. He said the additional trailers don’t compensate for how schools are built with a set capacity for the cafeteria, restrooms, hallways and media center.
“Adding more mobiles is not a simple answer,” he said.
Pecoraro contended though that Wake doesn’t efficiently use the 1,136 trailers it has .
Critics also have pointed to how school and county leaders say they don’t have a Plan B in case the bond issue fails. Merrill said that if officials did, they’d be accused of trying to elicit fear by saying what would happen if the bonds were rejected.
“There’s no backup at this point,” he said. “It’s a proverbial bridge that we would cross if necessary.”