The Wake County Board of Education and the Wake County Commissioners do not see eye-to-eye on how much money should be requested from voters in a school bond referendum that is scheduled to be on the ballot later this year. One part of the problem has to do with the personal relationships between the county commissioners and school board members, something that I simply don't believe is worthy of more publicity. The other part of the problem, one that certainly needs our attention, is whether or not the board has a clear vision for the future of Wake County's schools.
Originally, the school board argued that Wake County needs more than $1 billion to pay for new construction, and upgrades to existing schools. Obviously, at a time when the federal government is debating an increase in taxes and North Carolina's legislature is evaluating various options for increasing state revenues, asking voters to approve a hefty property tax increase is a risky proposition. However, this is not the question that voters should be debating in the upcoming months. The real debate should focus on whether or not an increase in taxes will yield improved academic performances in our schools.
I strongly recommend that people take a look at the Wake County Board of Education's strategic plan. In many areas the county has made impressive gains, in others it has a long way to go. For instance, in the past six year the achievement gap has declined by about 25%. On the surface, this is a positive trend; however, given the tremendous attention that our schools have been paying to this issue I believe the gap should be far narrower. Also, our students' End of Grade scores in math and reading have improved steadily but not by much. Incremental improvements show that the programs we implemented in our kindergarten and first grade classrooms, six years ago, are not yielding the kinds of results we should be seeing in our middle schools.
If our schools need money for new construction and upgrades then we have an obligation to make sure they get it. However, we also need to hold our school board accountable for results. Incremental improvements are not enough in today's competitive market environment and we need to make sure that any increase in taxes are tied to appreciable academic gains.