Raleigh, N.C. — The state Senate has given tentative approval to a bill that would allow the Wake County Board of Commissioners to take over responsibility for the construction and upkeep of area public school buildings.
Currently, the Wake County Board of Education oversees construction and maintenance.
"It's not a political issue. It's common sense," Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said Friday. "All of this is about saving taxpayers money."
County commissioners are responsible for raising taxes and paying construction bonds, he said. So, the county should have direct control over the schools.
Despite Hunt's protestations, the bill does have a distinctly partisan patina about it. Democrats in the Senate oppose the measure, and the current Wake County Board of Commissioners is dominated by Republicans while the current school board, although nonpartisan, is more closely allied with Democrats.
"This is a bad bill for Wake County," Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, said.
Blue said other senators were wary of giving their own county boards the same powers. "But you're willing to do it for Wake County because you are blindly wedded to this concept of partisanship," he said.
In fact, some senators were seeking to have their counties added to Hunt's bill, but Hunt said he wanted to keep it as a standalone bill to help the measure move through the House, where a more wide-reaching measure has faced opposition.
Hunt said Wake County commissioners asked for the bill because they believe the school board has made poor business decisions. He said they're worried about an $810 million school bond on the ballot this fall.
"They were concerned that, if they did not take over control of school construction, the bond may not pass," Hunt said. "We definitely want the bond to pass, and I think this is the best way to get it done."
Keith Sutton, chairman of the Wake County school board, blasted the legislation.
"Having originated in the Senate, it was of no surprise that such a desperate attempt to pass this legislation, when a bipartisan majority of a house committee has already rejected the idea, has sailed through the Senate chamber," Sutton said.
Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, couldn't be reached for comment.
The bill passed 26-9 on Friday, but senators will have to vote on it a final time next week before sending the measure to the House.