Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County is one Senate vote away from its second round of school board redistricting in just three years.
House lawmakers voted along party lines Monday night to approve Senate Bill 325, a Republican-penned proposal that would redraw the county's school board seats.
The new maps would consolidate the current nine districts into seven, turning the last two seats into regional districts, one representing Raleigh and the center of the county, and the other representing the outer ring of the county.
Republicans say the changes will allow voters to vote for two school board members instead of just one. Democrats say the redraw is a blatant political ploy to make the districts more favorable to Republican candidates.
The bill would also move school board elections from municipal elections in odd-numbered years to the general election in November of even-numbered years. The change would take place in 2016. Members elected in 2011 would serve an extra year till 2016. Members elected this coming fall will serve only three years.
The aim, said Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake, is to increase the turnout for school board races, though Rep. Duane Hall, D-Wake, responded that those elections are generally held in odd-numbered years to make them less partisan.
"Everybody in the state has an opinion on the Wake County school board," said Stam. "I won’t share mine with you unless you provoke me."
Stam said "a majority of" the Wake County delegation believes the changes will help solve some of the problems with the board.
Wake County Democrats disagreed vehemently.
Hall said the current maps, produced in 2011 by now-Secretary of Public Safety Kieran Shanahan, "were drawn by Republicans for Republicans." He said changing the districts for the second time in three years would cost the county as much as $250,000 and may be unconstitutional.
Hall added that the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and business community are opposed to redrawing the maps.
Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, called the bill a continuation of "petty partisan political conflicts" at the county level, urging his fellow lawmakers to stay out of it.
“The people of North Carolina expect us to be the big boys and girls," Martin said. “The public in Wake County is not crying out for this. The only folks crying for this are folks whose side lost in the Republican-drawn districts."
The Republican majority of the Wake County Board of Commissioners supports the change. The Democratic majority of the Board of Education is opposed to it.
Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, tried to amend the bill to add a voter referendum on the question in 2014.
"Put this on the ballot Nov. 4, and let the people of Wake County decide whether or not they want to change the way the school board is voted on," she urged. "Let’s let the people of Wake County make that decision. It is a local issue."
Her amendment was voted down by House Republicans.
“This is about voice," said Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake. "[Voters] want the voice today. They don’t want to wait until November 2014.”
"We could put referenda on every local bill," added Stam. "I don’t think we want to start that."
The measure passed its second and third readings. The final vote was 70-42.
It now goes to the Senate for concurrence in the changes made in the House version of the bill. If the Senate agrees, the bill becomes law – local bills don't go to the governor for approval.