Under the Dome

National Journal looks at Raleigh and Wake County school bond issue

The National Journal is focusing on Raleigh for its latest “America 360”series looking at “forward-thinking local economies.”

The focus of its first article Monday is on next month’s $810 million Wake County school construction bond referendum. The magazine bills itself as “Washington’s premier source of nonpartisan insight on politics and policy,” but the article is an attack on Republicans.

One hint of the tone of the piece is the headline: “The GOP Plan to Sabotage Raleigh's Successful Growth.”

“A bond issue on the November ballot would allow the system to build about 30 more schools,” writes James Oliphant, the magazine’s deputy managing editor. “But because this is Raleigh, and because North Carolina is a state now gripped in an epic scorched-earth battle between conservatives and liberals, its approval won't come easily. Just about everything in the region, down to local level, has become deeply politicized.”

The article brings up actions by the GOP-led General Assembly such as allowing vouchers to be used for low-income students to attend private schools and not providing pay raises to teachers.

The article also brings up how the Wake County Republican Party is opposed to the bond issue and how the GOP majority on the county board of commissioners tried to get legislation passed this year to let it take over school construction.

Oliphant speculates that the Wake commissioners are trying to sabotage the bonds.

“It gives Republicans a reason to oppose the bond with the hope that if it fails and the system ends up in dire straits, the political justification will exist to seize control,” Oliphant writes of the efforts by the commissioners to take over school construction. “Cynical? Yes. But par for the course these days in this deeply divided region.”

All four GOP Wake commissioners support the bond issue, including two who signed an opinion piece in Saturday’s N&O saying that that not all Republicans oppose the bonds.

As for the piece itself, it’s got a number of factual errors.

For instance:

* The Wake County school system has not “been adding 6,000 students new students a year” since 2006. The growth rate has slowed to under 4,000 students a year since the recession.

* “A bond issue on the November ballot would allow the system to build about 30 more schools” is definitely not happening. The bond is on the Oct. 8 ballot and calls for 16 new schools.

* It’s true that “liberals counterattacked and retook the [Wake County school] board.” But it wasn’t “last year.” Try 2011.

* The General Assembly has not been “expanding the use of vouchers to allow low-income students” to attend charter schools. The vouchers are for private schools. Charter schools are public schools so no vouchers are needed.

* It’s only partially correct that the General Assembly “eliminated a salary increase for teachers who hold advanced degrees.” The change exempts teachers who currently have those degrees.

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