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Proposal to shift control of Wake schools clears Senate

Posted May 15, 2013
Updated May 16, 2013

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— A bill that would put the Wake County Board of Commissioners in control of area school buildings and land moved closer to passage Wednesday, despite criticism that it was politically motivated.

The Senate voted 33-15 to pass Senate Bill 236. It now heads to the House.

The bill originally applied statewide, but sponsor Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, amended it to affect school districts only in 10 counties: Beaufort, Dare, Davie, Guilford, Harnett, Iredell, Lee, Rockingham, Rowan and Wake.

"The idea, really, is to give school boards an opportunity to spend the time they need on school education issues and to take advantage of the business acumen that county commissioners generally have to negotiate construction contracts, site acquisition and so on," Hunt said.

Republicans were able to remove Iredell County from the list in the Senate Education Committee and exempt Kannapolis City Schools, a portion of which is in Rowan County, from the legislation.

Democratic-backed efforts to remove Wake and Guilford counties failed in committee.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, who pushed to exempt the Wake County Public School System from the proposal, called the bill "payback, pure and simple" because the Wake County Board of Education is controlled by Democrats.

"If this were truly a good idea, why doesn't it apply to your counties?" Stein asked of powerful senators from Mecklenburg and Henderson counties. "It's not a statewide bill because you all know it's a bad idea."

School construction sign Legislation gives commissioners leg up in bond debate

School construction generic Backers say shift in school ownership not political

He ticked off a list of accomplishments by the Wake County Board of Education in recent years, such as building or renovating more than 100 schools in the past decade, bringing projects in under budget by a combined $100 million and winning several design and budget awards.

"School buildings are part of the educational process," he said.

Hunt denied that the proposal is political, noting that a Democratic majority on the Board of Commissioners backed the idea several years ago.

"I like businesspeople making these kinds of multimillion-dollar decisions," he said, noting that a majority of North Carolina county commissioners have business backgrounds, compared with only a quarter of school board members statewide.

The move also would allow school boards to concentrate on educational policy and improving student performance, he said.

Control of the schools has been a flashpoint for a long-simmering feud between Wake County's Board of Commissioners and Board of Education. Disagreements have flared in recent months as the two groups have tried to work together on a $900 million bond to build about two dozen schools over the next decade.

Joe Bryan, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, told the Senate Education Committee there are "numerous examples" of the school board wasting taxpayer money by not performing appraisals before trying to acquire land for a school and not maintaining construction checklists.

"We're constantly having these struggles," Bryan said. "They've become a 'Board of Construction' and not a Board of Education focused on the academic excellence that needs to occur in our classrooms."

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner told the committee the two boards have worked together in the past, and the legislation would upset the balance of power.

"This legislation is truly a solution in search of a problem," Kushner said. "We do not need a state law for Wake County to address the matters that duly elected officials can solve together."

The North Carolina School Boards Association said all nine school boards impacted by the bill oppose it.

Terry Renegar, a member of the Davie County Board of Commissioners, said the bill boils down to a power play by commissioners in the affected counties and their allies in the General Assembly.

"The effect will be to chill discussion and input from educational experts as to what is needed to build a school," said Renegar, who opposes the bill. "The notion that the school board does not have the business acumen or does not have access to business acumen to efficiently build a school in a cost-effective manner is bogus."

The bill is the second piece of legislation targeting the Wake County school board to advance in the General Assembly this session. The other would revamp the districts of board members.

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  • krimson May 20, 4:16 p.m.

    10 out of 90??? Sounds like unequal treatment under the law... Hey, isn't that blatantly unconstitutional???

  • superman May 17, 3:36 p.m.

    Just plain politics. The Wake County Commissioners are not that much better than the school board. Both are worthless. A law that only applies to "certain" counties is just unfair.

  • wmsb63 May 16, 5:18 p.m.

    Many post are saying that the school board is a BOE and that is what they should do "manage the education needs of the school system"......well if the school board is a BOE and manages the educational needs of the school system then they should also manage the building of schools as well. As a former teacher, not in any of the counties involved, the building of a school correlates directly with the education of children. I think all involved, especially our legislators, need to stop and think for once what's in the best interest of our children not their political gain.

  • SMAPAEA May 16, 4:51 p.m.

    Educators and their boards understand what children need to learn, not the business man that thinks a multipurpose gym/cafeteria/stage is a great idea because of cost savings. This is really about the General Assembly flexing it's power. If this should become law, it should apply to all 100 counties, the specificity smells of backroom deals.

  • grumpyhermit May 16, 4:35 p.m.

    Since my kids are all grown, I have been highly entertained by the antics of the Wake County School Board over the past few years. It's even surpassed Durham City government in entertainment value!

    But I agree with the observation that, if this is such a great idea, why not also for the other 90?? In the article above I don't see a compelling argument, or even a valid response, to that question.

    Surely it couldn't be that republicans feel big government shouldn't interfere at the local level unless it doesn't jive with their agenda?

  • rroadrunner99 May 16, 3:06 p.m.

    I only have one problem with this, that is if it's so great for 10 counties then why isn't it just as great for North Carolina's other 90 counties. Make it law for the entire state or not law at all.

  • Homesteader79 May 16, 12:24 p.m.

    Politics aside, I would rather persons with years of business experience building schools than some housewife who can't identify the difference between a flathead and phillips screwdriver. There has been SO much waste in building schools up to this point, why are we even arguing politics? This is about who is more qualified to make the decision. It surely isn't anyone on the BoE!

  • rand321 May 16, 9:31 a.m.

    How will the GOP feel about this when these local boards become controlled by Democrats?

    It seems that it would be easier to allow schools to not pay sales tax on construction than pass this law.

  • goldenosprey May 16, 9:23 a.m.

    "
    No liberals should ever be in charge of anything that involves tax payer dollars, period. They have deeply ingrained biases that make it impossible to fairly and affectively manage money...other people's money,"

    Conversely, no conservative should ever be in charge of a program that involves a universal public service. They are predisposed to privatize, give preferential treatment, and install an elitist system to marginalize the lower quintiles, rather than give them opportunities to succeed. This is a fine illustration. The GA picks out 10 counties to invade with partisan central planning for purely political purposes and accretion of power. Children and education are cast to the wind.

  • totallybogusdude May 16, 8:40 a.m.

    All this does is allow taxpayer monies to be funneled to those who gave the most that put certain individuals in a position to allow them to pad their pockets. It really doesn't matter what party is in control, they all do it! Now see who gets awarded contracts and follow the money trail.

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