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Oct 1, 2014

The Future Of Education Begins November 4

Sponsored Content provided by Connie Majure-Rhett - Former President and CEO , Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

The Wilmington Chamber board of directors was one of the first groups to endorse passage of the New Hanover County education bond that will be on the ballot November 4. This declaration of support speaks to the importance that the business community places on education. The reasons are many and far-ranging, from being able to attract businesses, to having a skilled workforce, to simply being able to give our children the best education and opportunities possible for success. Issues of overcrowding, aging and sub-par facilities, security and lack of technology access are roadblocks to success in these areas and threaten to harm the economic prosperity of our region.

You are likely already aware of the value the Chamber places on education from some of the topics covered in my other Insights columns, including our introduction of the STEM program Project Lead The Way at Trask Middle School and our fundraising efforts for the Youth Enrichment Zone Summer Initiative. Chamber and Chamber Foundation board members are aware of the enormous needs in our schools, many of which can be addressed by the passage of this education bond. So is Ann David, who has extensive experience as a volunteer in the schools. Ann is an attorney with David and Associates and has volunteered in the schools for more than 15 years in various capacities, including serving as New Hanover County PTA President, as the North Carolina Bar Association Law-Related Education Coordinator of Lawyers 4 Literacy, as well as host of the New Hanover County Schools Learning Network Show, “Upfront with the Superintendent.” Ann feels that the school bond is so important that she has taken on another role: co-chair of the Education Bond Committee. She recently appeared on the Chamber’s RadioX show to speak about the bond and has written an editorial that does an excellent job highlighting the needs in the schools and why the education bond is so important. Because I value her insight, I’m sharing her column with you:

New Hanover County Commissioners recently approved the Board of Education’s request to place an education bond on the November General Election ballot. In an economy where dollars for education are extremely hard to come by, this bond will allow New Hanover County Schools to advance technology, safety and overall building into the 21st century.

When the $160 million bond referendum passes, all New Hanover County Schools will benefit from the funds. Every school will be made safer with the installation of security cameras and school entrance protocol systems. The new school in the north end of the county as well as the replacement schools at College Park, Blair and Wrightsville Beach will provide needed space at the most overcrowded elementary schools. The renovations at the middle school level will modernize obsolete facilities and replace outdated building systems. Additional construction will provide new gymnasiums for two high schools that currently have no facilities where the entire student body can assemble at one time for cultural events or in the case of school emergency. The George West Building on the campus of New Hanover High School will be refurbished to provide ample educational space for their career technical classes. John T. Hoggard High School will receive cafeteria upgrades that will allow their students to eat inside instead of throughout the campus outside on benches and picnic tables.

Why do we have to use a Bond to supply the money for these projects; why not other sources of funding like the lottery? Many citizens are under the misconception that the North Carolina Lottery funds are being used to supply monies for capital school construction projects. Unfortunately, the legislature has seen fit to use lottery dollars to remove items from the budget; not as a new additional funding source for our schools. Using a Bond is the most cost effective way to provide funding for the large scale construction that is needed. Any other funding such as “pay as you go” would make it virtually impossible to build the schools that we need to ease the over-crowding.

There are concerns that it will be difficult to finance the bond adding tax burdens on our citizens. However, the past several bonds have not required a tax increase of any kind. If a tax increase is necessary, it would create an average increase of only three cents on the property tax rate. To put this situation into perspective, the tax bill on a $200,000 home would increase approximately $60 per year, or $5 per month, less than the amount many spend each week for coffee.

The overall impact on our economy is reflected in that businesses interested in relocating to the area or current businesses that are expanding are concerned with the quality and safety of our schools.  Remedying the current conditions of our area schools will make our community competitive in recruiting future economic growth. In addition, quality schools will increase the property values of the homes and businesses that are within their district as people want to purchase homes where they know that the schools are in top condition not only for their own children but also for potential buyers if they decide to resell.

Some resulting problems for our schools if the Bond should not pass would fall hardest on the heads of the future of Wilmington – the children. With no room left in area schools, redistricting would become an annual event, leaving students and their families wondering if they would remain in the same school from one year to the next depending on growth numbers. The Bond would allow schools to be built, re-built and expanded to accommodate one redistricting to assign students to their new school. Without the much needed replacements, renovations and repairs, it is only a matter of time before a student, a teacher or a visitor on a school campus will be seriously injured from dangerous conditions. Without the much needed technology improvements, our students, the future of Wilmington, will slip behind their contemporaries throughout the state as our community slips with them. Without the much needed safety and security measures, we subject the children of our community to the hands of people that seek to cause fear, pain and death at the cost of their young lives.

As Co-chair of the Bond Committee, I believe that it is imperative to the potential of our community that we focus on the significance of bringing our school facilities up-to-date so that students and teachers will have a safe and productive environment to learn and achieve and compete in today’s society. I believe that we can only accomplish these objectives with the essential funding that the Bond will provide. Only standing together as a community to protect our children can we make this happen by voting for the Bond on November 4th.

Please join Ann and Chamber leadership in keeping our education system – and our students – moving forward for many years to come. Vote “yes” for the education bond on November 4 and encourage your family, friends and neighbors to do the same. The alternative is a future we must avoid.

The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long term community and business interests.

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