Tuesdayâ€™s primary election ballot is loaded with many important state and local contests and issues but none more critical than the very last item on the ballot: a $44.6 million bond referendum for Lincoln County Schools.
The Lincoln Times-News rarely endorses or tells its readers how to vote, but this newspaper has always supported Lincoln County Schools. We are not about to change now.
Wholeheartedly, we recommend you vote yes on the referendum.
We realize the timing of the bond request is not optimal. Property owners are facing huge increases in taxes. The county is asking for a one-quarter cent sales tax. Our economy is strained. Fuel prices are at all-time highs and causing misery in other living costs, most noticeably in what it takes to feed a family. Job opportunities are few.
That $44.6 million is a big number.
The bond would pay for a lot. There are serious maintenance issues in school facilities that must be addressed. New buildings are needed to cope with Lincoln Countyâ€™s rapid growth.
If the measure passes, it would add three cents for every $100 of assessed property in 2012, the peak year of the bond. That means a $300,000 property would cost $90 more in taxes that year.
Thatâ€™s not a big number.
Due to inflation alone, the same bond would cost $48.2 million in 2009 and $52 million in 2010.
Our countyâ€™s projected growth requires more capacity in the schools. The population is expected to grow from 73,688 in 2007 to 76,950 in 2010.
Ending school enrollment in 2006-07 was 11,963; beginning enrollment in 2007-08 was 12,203.
Those are serious increases.
Several schools are over capacity already. Sixty trailers are being used for classroom overflow throughout the system. Teachers and administrators fret that public access to the trailers is too easy.
If the bond passes, at least 24 of the trailers will disappear.
There are embarrassing stories about conditions at facilities.
A trailer was in such disrepair at Asbury School that when it was moved, it fell apart completely on the road.
During a facilities tour by commissioners in February, a lock at East Lincoln High Schoolâ€™s football field was badly rusted and couldnâ€™t be opened. The lock was so old that no one could find a key for it.
The improvements and additions requested are not frivolous, and they will not put administrators, teachers and students in the lap of luxury.
The requests for the main part are to improve classroom environment. Sports facilities would get only $1.6 million of the money. There are no stadiums or field houses on the wish list even though the district is without a pool for swimming competition.
There has been no lack of communication about the bond. If you belong to a service club or are an active member of the community, you probably have seen (at least once) the slide presentation detailing what the bond would bring to our community. Still, school officials are concerned that not enough residents have heard everything they need to know to cast an informed vote.
Schools are the heart of every community. Businesses thinking about locating in Lincoln County consider the school system reflective of the quality of life here. Ken Kindley, president of the Lincolnton/Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, says good schools are a major part of the puzzle when industries are trying to recruit top-flight executives.
Our community, much like its newspaper, has always backed its schools.
Voting yes for the school referendum continues that support. It also helps pave the way for our students to stand out in the intensely competitive global economy.