One of the most common questions that I am asked when speaking to groups about the upcoming School Bond is – what happens if this doesn’t pass? It is a great question, and one that I want to explore a bit in this week’s blog. Before I get into it, I need to share a few facts.
First, when students returned to school this year there were 450 more than expected. The state estimated our student population would increase, but we exceeded their estimate by 450 students. This is the fifth year in a row in which that has happened. The second fact to consider is that we ended last year with 84 mobile units and that number continues to grow. We added new units to Bradley Creek this year. Every year that I have been here, we have had to add mobile units or rented classroom space to accommodate overcrowding. Finally, we opened another school this year – College Road Early Childhood Center – to accommodate overcrowding at Bellamy Elementary. Even with this addition, we could not remove trailer units at the school; they need the additional classroom space.
The circumstances described above offer a bit of insight into what would happen if the School Bond fails. There would be overcrowded classes, more mobile units and constant line shifting to address increased student population. Growth will continue; we are the third fastest growing area in the state and building permits are at pre-recession levels. One only has to drive around the county to see the evidence of this. To address the growth without a bond will mean that schools will have to use non-classroom spaces such as the library, office space, storage areas and the hallways as instructional spaces. This is already happening at some of our schools.
No bond means even more trailers will be needed. We already have trailers that are well past their expected usefulness. I have told people that a number of our trailers are older than the teachers who use them. Using a trailer as a classroom is not a good use of your tax dollars. Trailers cost more to maintain and are more likely to have mold issues than brick and mortar schools. The situation at Bellamy Elementary last year highlights this concern. Finally, trailers create unique safety issues. Students have to leave the unit and enter a building that more than likely is locked. The cafeteria, gym, media center, office and specials classes are all located inside of the school.
Without a bond, line shifting will be an ongoing event as different areas grow as we have to shift attendance lines to address the growth. This will become an annual event. We have already had to make small shifts the last two years. Each of these moves brings a major disruption in the lives of our students. With the bond, there will be one major redistricting in 2019 when the elementary construction projects are complete.
Beyond these concerns, I worry what message a failed bond would send to businesses that are considering locating here in New Hanover County.
The bond slogan is Our Kids, Our Community and Our Future. Your vote on this bond will define that future for both the kids and the community.