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Vote Likely To Be Close On Wake School Bond

school bond
Dave DeWitt

The Marching Trojans from Garner Magnet High School aren’t marching this morning – they are sitting, and practicing, in the band room. Their bags and instrument cases are stacked in every corner of the tiny space, on pockmarked floors and against cracked walls.

After band class, many will make their way across a grass-less, uncovered field to the temporary, modular cafeteria. Or as they call it here, the “Trailer-teria.”

Garner High was built in the 1960s for 800 students. Now, 2,436 cram these halls and modular classrooms – or “learning cottages” - Principal Drew Cook says with a grin.

He’s an alumnus of Garner High, Class of 1992. He’s got a quick gait and a ready smile as he leads a tour up a small rise between the main building and the two large expanses of modular classrooms out back.

“Obviously, when you have a campus like this, you don’t just hit a button and lock down,” said Cook. “There’s literally dozens and dozens and dozens of exits and entryways across the campus, and so it places a premium on that.”

If the school bond passes, this campus would change dramatically. Garner High would undergo a $67-million dollar renovation. Other old buildings in Wake County would get a facelift, and 16 new ones would be built.

The Democratically-controlled Wake School Board unanimously supports the $810-million bond - but Republicans in Wake are split.

school bond
Credit Dave DeWitt
Democrats and many elected Republicans support the Wake School Bond.

“When we look at these schools it looks as though they’re more a monument to architectural achievement than they are to academic achievement,” said Duane Cutlip with the East Wake Republicans Club. “And we think that’s a backwards focus.”

Cutlip and others in the G.O.P. are leading an aggressive effort to defeat the bond. But not all Republicans feel the same way. As is happening nationally, so-called “establishment” Republicans and their more conservative Tea-Party brethren are at odds.

Joe Bryan is trying to bridge that gap, at least locally. He’s the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners and is from Knightdale, in the eastern part of the county.

“It may be the taxes, it may be the cost of the schools, it may be the turmoil that’s going on in our system for a number of years, but at the end of the day, with 20,000 new students coming here, we need to have this flexibility to build the schools and maintain the assets that we have,” said Bryan.

Bryan also points to low lending rates and Wake’s AAA bond rating as reasons to support taking on debt now.  

The students and faculty here at Garner High School don’t much care about those kinds of things. They’d just like to see a place where the library isn’t humming with several large dehumidifiers in the corners, to help control mold.

“The fact is, the morning after the bond vote, on Wednesday in October, at Garner High school and across Wake County, we’re showing up to work and we’re going to do everything to make sure our kids get what they need,” said Principal Cook.

In other words, no matter what voters decide on October 8th, the band here at Garner High will play on.

Dave DeWitt is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Politics and Education. As an editor, reporter, and producer he's covered politics, environment, education, sports, and a wide range of other topics.
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