Local Votes on Bonds Said to Benefit From Turnout
Voters in Wake County, N.C., approved one of the largest school construction bonds on local ballots last week, giving the green light to build schools that will house an exploding student population.
The proposal there was one of several school bond issues that voters across the country weighed Nov. 7 as they cast ballots on local matters along with nationally significant midterm elections for Congress and numerous state offices. Proponents of the measures said they likely benefited from high voter turnout driven largely by interest in the congressional races.
In Wake County, which includes Raleigh, 53 percent of voters approved the $970 million bond measure, which supporters said would be the first of several bonds needed to finance more than $5 billion in school construction needs over the next 14 years.
With just more than 128,000 students enrolled this school year, the district expects to grow by an additional 40,000 students by 2010, said Del Burns, the superintendent of the Wake County schools. The district added 7,600 students to its roster this fall.
“We are growing so fast, and we have to have much more capacity,” Mr. Burns said. “This bond pays for a three-year building program. It’s just the first part of what we are going to need to build.”
The bond’s passage will allow the district to move ahead immediately with plans to build two high schools, four middle schools, and 11 elementary schools by 2010, Mr. Burns said. Even when the new campuses open, district officials said, several elementary and middle schools will have to remain on a year-round calendar to meet the enrollment demands.
The Wake County district is nationally known for its 6-year-old practice of using family-income levels to assign some students to schools as a means of limiting the concentration of poverty at any one campus.
Michael Evans, the spokesman for the district, said building new schools would not alter that policy.
In San Francisco, backers persuaded 74 percent of voters to support Measure A, a $450 million bond to help the city’s school district upgrade and repair its aging campuses and school buildings. It was the largest local school bond ever passed by San Francisco voters in support of the 56,000-student system.
Voters in two small Texas cities, meanwhile, approved bond measures that
included millions of dollars to help their school districts pay for conversions from traditional textbooks to electronic ones. The voters in Lancaster and Forney, located in suburban Dallas, said yes to school bond packages that earmark money to provide paperless “e-books” to students.
In Forney, 52 percent of voters approved Proposition 5, an $11.8 million bond to pay for laptop computers and system upgrades that officials of the 5,000-student district there said would help them switch students to using only electronic textbooks within the next two years. In Lancaster, 54 percent of voters agreed to a $215 million bond that, in part, will pay for laptop purchases and other technological upgrades to move the 5,200-student district toward paperless textbooks.
And in St. Paul, Minn., voters agreed to pay more in property taxes and extend an existing levy that together will raise $30 million in additional revenue annually for the city’s schools. Some of the money will pay for adding all-day kindergarten to nine schools that don’t already offer it, and go for early-childhood programs that have operated on temporary allocations.
School district governance was an issue on several ballots.
In Florida, voters in two counties were asked whether they wanted to change how their superintendents of schools are chosen.
In Lake County, near Orlando, 55 percent of voters opted to ditch the tradition of electing the superintendent of the 40,000-student school district in favor of an appointed chief who will be chosen by the elected school board. But the same idea was resoundingly defeated in Pasco County, north of Tampa, where 58 percent of voters opted to retain their right to elect a superintendent for the 60,000 student-system.
Most of Florida’s 67 school districts—42 of them now—allow voters to elect superintendents directly, a practice that goes back decades.
Voters in Sacramento, Calif., approved a change in how that district will elect school board members in future elections. Currently, members are elected districtwide, but in two measures that won last week, voters will soon elect members to represent specific voting areas.
Vol. 26, Issue 12, Pages 5,16