ZEBULON — In addition to electing a school board member on Oct. 8, voters will be deciding a major financial matter that has pitted advocacy groups in the county against each other: an $810 million school bond issue.
For candidates Don McIntyre and incumbent Tom Benton, there are other priorities in the district, especially in the Knightdale area.
In the District 1 race, McIntyre and Benton agree the school bond is what’s best for the students of Wake County and McIntyre said, if used correctly, the money can help alleviate some of Knightdale’s problems.
In eastern Wake, the bond would pay for four new schools around Knightdale, the beginning stages of expanding East Wake Middle and repairs and upgrades in five schools: East Wake High, Knightdale, Wendell and Lockhart elementary schools and Zebulon Middle School.
The bond would also provide money to help schools upgrade technology and improve infrastructure.
During a forum held by WakeUP Wake County and other groups in late September, Benton said growth was especially important in areas like Wake Forest and Rolesville but for other areas in District 1, specifically Knightdale, academic programs may be a more pressing concern.
Benton said student achievement should come first. One of the first things he said needs to be done is improving the district’s low graduation rate.
“(The graduation rate) is already showing us that we probably need to beef up support for reading in the schools for our area,” he said.
McIntyre said expanding the types of programs Knightdale offers could help with their graduation rates. By offering vocational programs in Knightdale, it could motivate more students to stay through graduation.
“It would attract some of the students who might otherwise be dropping out,” McIntyre said. “If they had a chance to learn a trade, they might stay around to get their final education.”
Knightdale High School offers the Academy of Environmental Studies and high schools in the area offer career and technical education courses. There are no schools in Knightdale dedicated solely to trade skills.
Benton also echoed an issue set forth in an independent audit of Knightdale schools: retaining and incentivizing teachers is a key piece to maintaining and improving Wake’s schools.
“We've got to advocate much stronger for our staffs,” he said. “We are approaching the point where we cannot maintain a viable teaching staff with the low pay, lack of resources and lack of respect given to public schools.” In the past, Benton has mentioned incentivizing teachers, not neccesaarily financially, but as a means of retaining a teaching staff.
Wake schools’ Superintendent Jim Merrill has said money from the bond cannot be used to cover recurring costs like teacher salaries. The question on the ballot specifically allocates the money “for construction, expanding and renovating school buildings and other facilities.”
He also said the state should consider the impact of its programs as well.
“We keep talking about state leaders who say the system is broke and it needs to be fixed. We know there's issues, no doubt about it, there’s plenty of room for improvement but we are not broken,” Benton said.
Hankerson: 919-829-4826 Twitter: @easternwakenews