Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata says voters need to "cowboy up" to pass a school construction bond issue next year to maintain the area's quality of life.
Tata, school board member Chris Malone and Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley spoke out about the likely 2013 bond referendum on WRAL's On The Record show that aired Saturday. Bill Leslie, the show's moderator, asked Tata how "catastrophic" it would be if the bond issue was defeated.
"From my point of view, the capacity issues we've got right now are a challenge," Tata answered. "So if we can't get through a bond and get construction money, we're going to have to re-attack it again very quickly because it's just not even in the realm of conceivability that we're not going to be able to construct the schools because we're projected to have 200,000 students in the next nine years.
We're going to continue to grow. If we want the business, if we want the quality of life that Wake County citizens have come to expect then we need to cowboy up for it."
Malone and Gurley were vague when Leslie asked how big the bond will be and how high a property tax increase it might entail. The $970 million bond issue approved by voters in 2006 resulted in a 4.7-cent tax increase to build and operate the schools.
Malone said that they're cognizant of the fact that the economy isn't in a good place right now.
"I'm concerned about how large a bond we can float," Malone said. "I'm thinking that maybe several bonds showing what we've done and that we've done it on good faith and that we've done it well and that we've got buy in from everybody and proceeding along the way."
Gurley said he would promise people that this process would be very transparent, pointing back to how in 2006 the referendum listed how much it would raise property taxes both to build and operate the new schools.
"My goal in this process is to make sure we meet the needs of the school system, but that we fully inform the voters so that they know what they're voting on because that's the only way I'm going to vote to impose a tax increase is for the public to tell me to do so," Gurley said.
Gurley said commissioners "fully realize that one of our major responsibilities is helping the school system meet their facility needs." He said that general-obligation bonds are the cheapest way to pay for school construction.
Gurley said both boards will need to work together to get a bond on the ballot for next year. He suggested forming a citizens facilities advisory committee, similar to what was done in 2006, to review ways to cut costs.
Among the other issues discussed is why a new high school costs $75 million, why Wake is growing so much, the overcrowding at more than 70 schools and why the school board is looking at a May instead of fall bond vote.