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This week’s CommenTerry is an election wrap-up with a focus on education issues.  I mean, seriously, what else did you expect?

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State legislative races are not a good indicator of voter sentiment. Like their Democratic predecessors, Republicans created electoral districts that give them a built-in advantage.

On the other hand, proposals to raise sales and use taxes and issue bonds for school construction are countywide votes.  As such, voters’ decision to approve or reject one of these referendums may offer some insight into the role of public education in this year’s election.

Overall, voters approved only two of ten proposals to raise sales and use taxes.  Of the ten, half had a K-12 education component.  Anson County was the only jurisdiction to successfully raise sales and use taxes for public schools (See Facts and Stats below).

School bond referenda were much more successful.  Voters approved all four multi-million-dollar bonds earmarked for school construction, renovation, and maintenance. 

  • By far, New Hanover County had the most successful bond vote.  The county’s northernmost precinct was the only one that rejected the $160 million package. 
  • In Pender County, southeastern precincts carried the $75 million bond to victory.  A significant portion of the bond proceeds will be used for projects in that area.
  • Predictably, support for the $119.5 million Iredell County bond was strong among the county’s southern precincts.  Population growth in southern Iredell County has been brisk in recent years, as families with the means to escape Mecklenburg County find refuge near Lake Norman.  Unfortunately, residents of rural Iredell County will now be forced to pay for the growth in the county’s southern suburbs.
  • Finally, Harnett County residents approved a $100 million bond by nearly 1,000 votes.  Voters in southern Harnett, an area that continues to grow due to the federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) affecting nearby Fort Bragg, strongly supported the proposal.  Similar to the situation in Iredell County, residents of rural Harnett County will have to foot part of the bill for population growth generated largely by an adjacent county.

While this seems to suggest that voters main concern was school infrastructure, two proposals to raise sales and use taxes for improvements to school facilities failed.  Voters in Bertie and Rockingham counties chose to reject tax increases that may have been used for school building improvements.  Bonds appear to be more palatable to voters, even though paying the debt service on a bond often requires a property tax increase.

Voters roundly rejected sales and use tax increases for public schools in Guilford and Mecklenburg counties.  In Guilford County, Greensboro residents supported the tax increase and much of the rest of the county did not.  Similarly, support for the Mecklenburg County tax increase was strong in Charlotte and weak elsewhere.  I suspect that the resignation of Superintendent Heath Morrison earlier this week had a unique role in its sizable defeat.

And then there is the outlier. Anson County voters narrowly approved a quarter-cent increase in the county’s sales and use tax to boost teacher pay supplements.  Southeastern Anson, roughly areas south and east of Wadesboro, supported the tax increase. A majority of voters in these precincts also supported Democratic candidates Kay Hagan and Antonio Blue. Republican-leaning precincts that border Union and Stanly counties in western and northern Anson County rejected it.

So, what is the takeaway from yesterday’s elections?

  1. Most voters still do not want higher sales and use taxes, even when local public schools and public school teachers are the recipients of the revenue.
  2. Between 2009 and 2012, school facilities bonds disappeared from county ballots.  As the state’s economy has improved, voters appear willing to support bonds again. Since approval of Wake County’s $810 million bond in October 2013 and Mecklenburg County’s $290 million bond a month later, county commissions and school boards are increasingly optimistic about passage.  Expect to see several school facility bond referenda on 2015 ballots.
  3. At this point, education is a secondary issue for most of the electorate.  While voters in North Carolina and elsewhere will continue to care deeply about public schools, the economy and job creation appear to be their biggest worries.
  4. Most importantly, it would be a mistake to conclude that this election "sent a message" about the trajectory of education legislation and policy in North Carolina.  Attention liberals — defeating representatives Moffitt, Murry, Stone and Ramsey does not tell the N.C. General Assembly to "to start investing in public education again."  Attention conservatives — maintaining significant majorities in the General Assembly does not mean that you can hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner in the foyer.

Hey, Thom Tillis, let’s talk.  I think most North Carolinians would agree that unfunded mandates (or mandates generally) from Washington, D.C. stink.  If you really want to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, then work with your colleagues in the U.S. House to give our schools some much-needed breathing room.

Facts and Stats

K-12 education-related bond and tax referendum votes






Sales and use tax

Teacher pay

Pass; 52-47


Sales and use tax

School facilities

Fail; 55-45


Sales and use tax

Teachers, school facilities, security and stuff

Fail; 57-43



School facilities

Pass; 52-48



School facilities

Pass; 56-44


Sales and use tax

Teacher pay

Fail; 61-39

New Hanover


School facilities

Pass; 64-36



School facilities

Pass; 57-43


Sales and use tax

School facilities

Fail; 74-26

Acronym of the Week

NCSBE — North Carolina State Board of Elections

Quote of the Week

"’You know,’ said he, ‘that this country is engaged in a violent internal warfare, and suffers a variety of evils from civil dissensions. An election is the grand trial of strength, the decisive battle when the belligerents draw out their forces in martial array; when every leader, burning with warlike ardor, and encouraged by the shouts and acclamations of tatterdemalions, buffoons, dependents, parasites, toad-eaters, scrubs, vagrants, mumpers, ragamuffins, bravos, and beggars in his rear; and puffed up by his bellows — blowing slang whangers, waves gallantly the banners of faction, and presses forward to office and immortality!’"

– Washington Irving in Salmagundi (1807)

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