News: CJ Exclusives

Governor calls for school construction bond while visiting elementary school

Stough Elementary Principal Chris Cox speaks with Gov. Roy Cooper at the school Tuesday, June 10. (Photo by Lindsay Marcello).
Stough Elementary Principal Chris Cox speaks with Gov. Roy Cooper at the school Tuesday, June 10. (Photo by Lindsay Marcello).

While Gov. Roy Cooper toured the halls of Stough Elementary School in Wake County, he criticized legislators for failing to put a nearly $2 billion school construction bond on the November ballot.

“We have a lot of counties, particularly in rural parts of our state, who have not been able to afford to build the new schools that they need,” Cooper said during the visit Tuesday, July 10. “I think there is a lot of bipartisan support for a statewide school bond. I put one in my proposed budget.”

The governor criticized lawmakers’ decision to focus on constitutional amendments — such as a voter ID requirement and a reduced cap to the top state income tax rate — instead of passing the school bond for voters to consider this fall.

“They are forcing people to vote for constitutional amendments that are bad for our state or are unnecessary, but refuse to let people vote on a school bond,” Cooper said.

The N.C. School Bond would have provided $1.9 billion in public school facility grants for all 100 counties, if approved by voters. In 2016, the Department of Public Instruction reported the state’s public schools needed $8.1 billion to pay for new school facilities or renovations.

The most recent statewide school bond came in 1996. Cooper said he thinks the state can afford another school bond without raising taxes, but said lawmakers made investing more in education difficult by enacting tax cuts.

“We still need to plan for more schools. It is time for a school bond,” Cooper said. “I hope when the legislature comes back they will put it on the ballot for the next possible time people can vote.”  

Stough Elementary is just one of many North Carolina schools scheduled for replacement. The school was built in 1968.

Principal, Chris Cox says it’s time for a newer building.

“We do have some challenges with things you don’t see, like with the HVAC systems or some of the roofing is old,” Cox said.

Stough serves more than 400 students and has seven mobile trailers. The gymnasium isn’t large enough to fit all the students and their families, so school officials get creative when hosting events. The new school will fit around 600 students.

“We are fortunate to be in Wake County, where that local funding is appropriated for these measures,” Cox said. “Funding is different from county to county, and ultimately our local funding does provide that capacity to move into new spaces and also to come back to brand new spaces.”

Construction won’t begin on Stough Elementary until July 2019 and is scheduled to finish in 2020. In the meantime, students and teachers will attend a new school — Barton Pond Elementary. The project will cost more than $37 million and is funded through the Continuous Building Program and a previous $810 million school construction bond passed in 2013.

“Wake County is one of the fortunate counties that stepped up and provided a bond referendum for school construction,” Cooper said.

Voters won’t get a chance to vote on a statewide school bond this year, but voters in Wake County may vote on three bonds Nov. 6. One is a $548 million bond for to Wake County Public School System to fund construction over the next two years.

If voters approve the bonds, property taxes in Wake County are expected to increase.