County leaders seek legislative changes to Wake school board
Posted January 21, 2013
Updated January 22, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A call for change could lead to a political showdown between Wake County commissioners and Wake County school board members.
The Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday afternoon on its 2013 legislative agenda, which includes taking away ownership and oversight of school sites and buildings from the school system and giving it to commissioners.
"I see that as an obvious power grab by the leadership of the county commissioners," school board chairman Keith Sutton said Monday. "The statutory authority is clearly given to the school board to have control over that."
But Commission Chairman Joe Bryan says the building-land issue is a matter of efficiency.
If the proposed change is successful, the Wake County Public School System would be the only one in the state that doesn't have ownership and oversight of its schools and land.
The Board of Commissioners' legislative agenda also seeks a change to the way school board members are elected. Instead of one member being elected from each of the school system's nine districts, the county would be redrawn into five districts, and the other four board members would be elected countywide on at at-large basis.
Changing the election process, Bryan says, is the board listening to constituents.
"We hear from a lot of people who feel they only have one voice on that board," he said. "It is a county system, and this would give greater representation for our citizens."
Sutton isn't buying the arguments.
"It's their aim to circumvent the will of the school board," he said.
Any changes could have a huge impact on the school system, political observer Barlow Herget says.
He believes at-large elections could give Republicans the chance to gain back the board majority on a school board that's supposed to non-partisan.
"With a new Republican majority in both houses in the General Assembly and a new Republican governor, I think if a Republican board of commissioners submits something, it's likely to get approved," Herget said. "It's setting up a fight is what it's doing."