Bond proposal will assist local schools with new construction

Published 5:45 pm Sunday, March 10, 2019

RALEIGH – As part of his budget message earlier this week, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper proposed letting the state’s voters decide the fate of a $3.9 billion bond package that, among other things, would represent a significant investment towards a goal of constructing new schools.

Invest NC, he said, is a way to invest in better schools from kindergarten through college as well as to improve other critical infrastructure.

“A bond is the smartest way to invest in school construction and renovation and other critical needs without causing harmful cuts elsewhere. With a school bond, we’ll get hammers swinging all across the state and still be able to afford good teachers and principals,” Gov. Cooper said.

The proposed bond would include $3.1 billion for education efforts, including $2 billion for K-12 public schools statewide, $500 million each for facility improvements at community colleges and University of North Carolina System institutions, and $100 million in the NC History Museum and the NC Zoo.

Also included in the bond proposal would be $800 million to invest in clean water through local water and sewer projects.

The Governor’s announcement included a breakdown – county-by-county – of the proposed funding to help school systems improve their infrastructure. Locally, that would lead to an investment of tens of millions of dollars for school systems in Bertie ($12.47 million), Gates ($11.83 million), Hertford ($13.05 million), and Northampton ($11.73 million).

In making his announcement, Cooper stressed that 40 percent of the state’s existing public schools have been in use for at least 50 years.

Locally, that assessment is true.

While Bertie County has a new high school, which opened in 2014, two of its elementary schools are over 50 years old: West Bertie (built in 1961) and Aulander (1964).

Ditto for two schools in Hertford County – Riverview Elementary (built in 1956) and C.S. Brown High School STEM (1951). Both, however, have undergone major renovations, the latest of which took place in 2010 for C.S. Brown and 2004 for Riverview.

Meanwhile, Hertford County officials are moving forward with a $13.9 million plan to open a new Ahoskie Elementary School by 2021.

Hertford County High School and Middle School both opened in 1972 while Bearfield Primary School opened in 2000.

Northampton County has several aging schools, to include Conway Middle School and Willis Hare Elementary School. Both opened in 1957 and each has experienced several renovations: Conway Middle in 1999, and Willis Hare as recently as 2004.

The last new school built in Northampton County was in 2006 (Central Elementary in Jackson). The county’s high school (1990) and Gaston Elementary (2000) are relatively new.

In Gates County, work is currently underway on a $10.5 major renovation to Central Middle School, which opened in 1957. All of its other schools are more than 50 years old: Buckland Elementary (opened in 1951 with renovation work performed over the years, the latest in 2008); Gatesville Elementary (also opened in 1951 with its most recent renovation coming in 1998), and T.S. Cooper Elementary (opened in 1952, with its latest renovation being done in 2008).

Gates County High School opened in 1961 and has seen renovations made in 1968, 1991, 2004 and 2009.

The bond package also includes infrastructure improvement funding (a projected $300 million) for all the state’s community colleges. If the measure makes it to the ballot and approved, it would result in $3 million for Roanoke-Chowan Community College; $3.48 million for Halifax Community College; $6.06 million for College of the Albemarle; and $3.6 million for Martin Community College.

Cooper said a bond is a fiscally responsible option for making these investments, offering stability for school districts, colleges and universities, and local governments planning their budgets. It also allows the people of North Carolina the chance to voice their opinion on making these public investments.

District 5 State House Representative Howard Hunter III applauded the Invest NC bond proposal.

“Governor Cooper’s budget invests in our community and ensures that our schools and economy succeed in every corner of the state,” Hunter said. “These much-needed projects will create local jobs, particularly in the area of construction.

“Governor Cooper’s budget proposal is just the first step in the budget process. The State House, State Senate, and Governor will all have to agree on a new budget,” Hunter added. “As the budget process moves forward, I appreciate Governor Cooper’s leadership to provide opportunity to every student in North Carolina and his effort to help us grow local economies and local jobs.”

However, not everyone agrees with the Governor’s plan.

Joe Coletti, John Locke Foundation senior fellow, said Cooper’s budget proposal is unrealistic.

“His $3.9 billion bond proposal is twice as large as anything else under discussion,” Coletti said. “Its impact would not be felt until after the next election.”

The NC General Assembly has another school investment plan currently under consideration. That $1.9 million plan uses existing state revenue as the main source of funding.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s overall budget proposal leans heavily towards education. It proposes $5 million to recruit, retain, and support quality teachers and $5.3 million for more professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders. To bring more good teachers into the profession, Gov. Cooper plans to invest $4 million to expand the Teaching Fellows program to include more universities and more types of teachers.

To keep schools safe and students healthy, the governor’s budget provides $40 million to hire more school nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers and school resource officers. His budget also includes $15 million for safety improvements and training at K-12 schools. Both recommendations were endorsed in a report issued last month by a special school safety committee headed by local sheriffs.

The governor’s plan also includes $29 million in new funding for schools to purchase more textbooks, digital resources, instructional supplies, and enhanced digital learning opportunities for students.

He proposes that teachers would see an average pay raise of 9.1% over two years with no teacher receiving less than a 3% raise in either year. The plan also eliminates salary plateaus for veteran teachers, allowing teachers with up to 30 years of service to earn more for each year of service. Under the current teacher pay plan enacted by legislators, teachers who keep working beyond 15 years receive only one pay raise of $2,000 after their 24th year of service.

In addition, Gov. Cooper proposes restoring extra pay for teachers who hold a master’s degree in the subject they teach and eliminating the requirement that teachers pay for their own substitutes when they take a personal leave day.

Gov. Cooper’s plan also provides experience-based raises for school principals. Principals would earn more based on both experience as a principal and the size of the student body they lead. The plan also restores salary supplements for principals who hold advanced degrees.

“Public education is our most important job as a state, and we must do better,” Gov. Cooper said. “Better pay for educators, safe, modern school buildings, and opportunities for students to learn and stay healthy are critical to our state’s future and we must invest in them.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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