Taxes and Capital Improvements

I have been following the WakeEd blog (from the Wake County News Observer); recently, T. Keung Hui posted noticed that the school board passed a resolution to ask for $939.9 million in funding. That’s right, $940 million.

I did some digging around to put things in perspective. First, I knew that Wake County was much larger than Champaign Unit 4 – like two orders of magnitude larger. Their 2012-2013 projected enrollment is 149,508. So I asked how such a large referendum ($810 million, not the full $940) translates to property tax increases, and Keung replied it is about $55 on a $100,000 home. Get this, Wake County (WCPS) has been passing bond referendums on a fairly regular schedule, its actually quite impressive:

Year $Million per $100,000
2000 500 34.13580247*
2004 564 38.50518519*
2006 970 66.22345679*
2013 810 55.3
total 2844 194.1644444

* Using the 2013 tax rate of $55.3 per $100,000 on a $810 million bond – these are not actual values. If you know them, please let me know.


With that money, they have built, on average, 14 new schools and renovated, on average, 21 schools per referendum. Or for a total of 42 new schools and 62 renovated schools, prior to 2013. Wow! And that cost $139 per $100,000 in property taxes (again, subtracting out the 2013 value). Not too shabby.

In comparison, Unit 4 wants $180 per $100,000 in 2014 and another $70 in 2018. The working cash bond of 2012 works out to roughly $16.67 per $100,000. There is already controversy about the 2014 referendum; there is even not much consensus on what direction to head in.

The point of this post is to look at other school districts and see how they do capital improvements. I just happened to watch WCPS because they are tied up with Alves “Controlled Choice” thing as well, just played out on a much larger scale. I wonder what other school districts are doing. How do they get to the point that they can pass referendums every so often, backed by a well-thought out plan?


Thoughts this week about the school board

Walking in reverse direction down the path of my thoughts of the school board this past week:

Who are we?

I subscribe to a feed of the Wake County School District blog, and just this morning is a post about the new school board chairman of the Wake County school district (which, by the way, is frickin’ HUGE!). What is fascinating about his “acceptance speech” is that he casts an identity for the school board that unites it with the community; he readily acknowledges the rocky road they have been through (you think Champaign has an issue with Schools of Choice? Ha!) and the challenges going forward.

“We the Wake County Board of Education will provide the kind of exemplary leadership that is expected of us by this community, and I intend to lead us in that direction. I ask my colleagues around this table to join me in this commitment and this effort for we are Wake County.”

2013 Board Candidate John Williams, III

I am going to be reaching out to candidates as I find out who they are. Last night I had a great facebook dialog (be sure to click the tiny “See More”) with Mr. Williams. I am impressed by his convictions and desire to tackle some big issues. Better yet, not just desires but ideas on how to make them come to fruition. I asked him further about two points (getting the community to show up at meetings and pedagogy); he responded to the first by admitting there is a lack of community participation that is not solved by free food, the need to build relationships and the need for more open communication; to the second he agreed there is no “one size fits all” and very much wants to move away from lecture-laden approaches to engaging the students more thoroughly. What’s cool is that I see a number of excellent teachers already doing this. Hearkens me back to the Sir Ken Robinson video shown at the Futures Conference. Having said all this, don’t take my word for it – go read about John Williams yourself, or better yet, ask him some questions of your own.

As I find out who other board candidates are, I am going to make it a point to drop by and get to know them. Laurie, I have some questions for you next. *grin*


I already shared how I attempted to address the board at Monday’s board meeting. Dr. Joe Davis was kind enough to follow-up with me (and CC: Dr. Judy Wiegand). He mentioned Gene Logas’ previous efforts to spell out “Where does all the money go?” I agree that this is a good first step in breaking down the complex tongue of finances, but it only goes so far (it is, after all, a first step). I responded with an example of Jess Bachman’s now famous “Death and Taxes” poster which gives an awesome overview of the Federal Budget. On top of this, I followed up with a member of the Promises Made Promises Kept (PMPK) committee; here is an excellent example where the district communicates a ton of information to a group of people that is open to the public, but the public has next to no clue what is going on because 1) very few community members attend the PMPK meetings, 2) the “transparent” reports take a REALLY long time to make it up on the website. In fact, the last one I can find is from December of 2011. So, first hurdle is to get this information in the public sphere, second hurdle is to get these reports so that we the common people can understand them. 🙂

Transparency is not about pointing fingers. It is about collaborating towards a common goal. As John Williams implied, accountability is a good thing, when done right. It helps all of us.

[PS – I hope that a letter-to-the-editor I submitted on this topic is printed soon]

More about 2013 Board Candidates

Meg Dickinson wrote an article on Tuesday in the aftermath of Tom Lockman stepping down from his position on the board. One particular quote of Mr. Lockman that I really like is:

I truly believe that public education is the most critical aspect of a community’s ability to succeed and develop…

Most. Critical. Those are big words, ones that should challenge our community. But back to Meg’s article about the candidates. She relates the Stig Lanneskog intends to run for the 2-year slot. She also says that seven people to date have checked out petitions from the Mellon Center. Note that the petitions actually come from the County Clerk’s office and that the Mellon Center merely provides the forms as a courtesy; since the forms are downloadable from the internet, there is no telling the maximum number of people that have expressed an interest. On top of that, just because someone picks up a packet does not mean they will get all the signatures and actually submit it by December 26th. What is most curious to me is, of the people that have picked up a packet, we only know about three (Ileana Saveley, Laurie Bonnett, John Williams and Stig Lanesskog). Personally, I really want to find out who the others are because I want to meet these people who are so interested in the school district that they want to serve on the board, which is not all fun and games. 🙂 Very worthy, no doubt, but a sacrifice none the less.

School assignment: Wake County pulling off the gloves

The News-Observer has been reporting over the past few weeks a number of articles that highlight the displeasure of some folks about the “choice” school assignment based on Dr. Michael Alves’ program. Personally, I find all the riff-raff of anonymous haters and rare thoughtful comments to be confusing, only making the waters more muddy. In the latest piece, supposedly the Wake County Board is directing the superintendent to develop a “node-based” assignment process (fancy talk for “neighborhood schools”).

I ran this by our Unit 4 Board, and one of the emails I received in response was that the “directive” looks very much like the system we have now; a hybrid solution (a mix of Proximity and SES priorities, weighted towards Proximity by the way), a “stay where you start” clause, and still some measure of unpredictability.

In all my reading of Wake County and Unit 4 articles, blogs and comments, what strikes me the most is the perception that people have of the system. I am inclined to think that for the most part, the current system gets the job done. Not perfectly – there are still some big issues with those who end up on a wait list. But the bigger problem, I think, is when folks either have an expectation of having the privilege of choosing one (or maybe two) school and getting it (for any number of reasons) or being totally overwhelmed and drowned in all the technical details (Proximity? Priority? SES?). The system, as it operated in March 2012, did not avail itself well for either end of that spectrum.

I don’t know what the perfect system is. Greg Novak had some pretty interesting ideas that tweaked the current system just a tad more, but Read the rest of this entry »

Track My Steps (Wake County): Education Inequality Forum

From the news-observer again:

Track My Steps is hosting a public forum tonight on the state of education in Eastern Wake County.

Forum organizers say there is a “crisis in public education in eastern Wake County and that they want to “break the silence on education inequality.” The forum will focus on the challenges faced by Eastern Wake students and parents in the areas of early education, student discipline, student/parent rights and resources, course selection/availability and student achievement.

“Eastern Wake residents are calling for education reform in their part of Wake County to create a better Wake County,” according to the press release. “Participants will introduce a plan of action to change the perception of education in Eastern Wake.”

When I read the Track My Steps information, it reminded me a lot of what we are trying to do. I am following up with them to learn more. I also very much wonder about the details of the reform – they seem to have some important folks on board.

Wake County does their own version of "Working Cash Bonds"

Transportation and Transparency at Wake County

I have been following the Wake School District news for a while; T. Keung Hui really puts out a good bit of information, and as a blogger, I am envious of his style and content. 🙂 The latest article was about transportation (an issue that has appeared several times the past couple weeks) and transparency. The latter obviously caught my attention.

I invite you to go read both the original article, then the referenced white paper on transparency. Very interesting.


On first glance, I like the transparency policy. I do wonder how much overhead it costs (in terms of raw money and also staff FTE). I do also wonder if this “pattern of transparency” translate well into face-to-face conversations. For instance, for those that do not take the time to take advantage of the online transparency, do they still have access to the same information when talking to an administrative official? When someone walks into the office, are they just expected to know everything?


Another thing I have noted while reading Hui’s articles is that the Wake County Board Members are not always in public agreement. Unlike our own Board Members. For me personally, I can see how this might be a good thing, because it allows more conversations to be had in the public sphere. However, it also shows a degree of dissension, which might hurt the public image of the Board. That is a tricky balance. How does one embrace diversity of opinion while striving for consensus and unity of purpose?

Positive media for "Controlled Choice"

Noticed two positive articles this morning about “Controlled Choice” (aka, “Schools of Choice”, “Kindergarten Lottery”, “School Assignment”). Early enrollment is spiking, numbers are very high. Results may be delayed due to all the shuffling.

WCIA: pre-release numbers look like parents are choosing a more diverse selection of schools (and not hitting the “overchosen” schools as much). Could be due to the new push in how registration is advertised (new website, new video, ads on buses, billboards, pushed out through all the schools, etc).

I find these encouraging and very interesting in light of what is happening at Wake County; they just revamped their system and many parents are not at all happy about it. Wake County is significantly larger than Unit 4 and much more complex, yet they still use Alves. Reading the News&Observer (tag 1, 2) kinda makes me glad we are small time and that we now have some positive things to say. 🙂


The WCIA piece highlights Meiby Huddleston, a parent who hopes to send a child to Carrie Busey next year. WCIA also covered a mock classroom at the new building.