Wake County Schools

Wake school board appoints new member, requests lobbyist

Posted February 5, 2013
Updated February 6, 2013

— The Wake County Board of Education appointed a retired principal Tuesday to fill one of two vacant school board seats and directed the superintendent to hire a legislative lobbyist amid a political showdown with county commissioners.

Thomas Benton, who began his career as a social studies teacher at Enloe High School before serving for 11 years as Durant Road Middle School’s first principal, will finish the rest of Chris Malone’s term, which expires in November.

Malone, who was elected to the District 1 seat serving northeast Raleigh in 2009, resigned in December after being elected to the state House of Representatives.

Eight people applied for his school board seat, and the board spent more than four hours interviewing candidates Tuesday afternoon before voting to choose Benton, a Democrat, during the public meeting.

Benton said he wasn’t sure about throwing his name into the race for Malone’s seat, but ultimately decided it was the right thing to do.

“To be very honest, my two daughters said, ‘Dad, how can you not do this?’” he said. “’You have always told us, if you have a chance to make a difference, you have to stand up and make a difference.’”

The school board will repeat the interviewing and voting process in March, when the board is expected to choose a replacement for former member Debra Goldman, who announced her resignation over email Friday.

Keith Sutton Wake schools to hire legislative lobbyist

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the school board approved a directive for Interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey to hire a lobbyist that will defend the school system from what the board characterized as attacks on its authority by the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

The commission voted last month to seek legislative changes to how the school board is run after the relationships between the boards became increasingly strained over student assignment changes and the firing of former Superintendent Tony Tata.

At its Jan. 22 meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved 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. The commission is also seeking to change the way school board members are elected, creating five districts instead of nine and having four seats elected on an at-large basis.

School board Chairman Keith Sutton has called the commission’s plan an “obvious power grab” and said Tuesday that the school board needs to be “in the best position to not only respond, but to defend ourselves.”

"(The commissioners' agenda) strikes at the heart of the authority that has been granted to the school board by state statute," Sutton said.

Board member Susan Evans agreed.

“County commissioners have been aggressive and we have had to be defensive,” she said.

School board members John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett voted against hiring a lobbyist. Tedesco said the move will further exacerbate the commission’s concerns about how the school board uses its $12 million fund balance.

The school board is setting aside $100,000 from its savings in the fund balance to pay a lobbyist.

“That will go over well with commissioners,” Tedesco said sarcastically.

He was right – County Commissioner Tony Gurley called it a misuse of funds.

“I know this wasn't in the budget. So, they’ll have to use the unspent county tax money to pay for it,” Gurley said. “This will just be another misuse of the fund balance.”

Tedesco would like to see the school board repair its relationship with commissioners and thinks hiring a lobbyist will only fan the flames.

“We need to start having genuine dialogue and conversation, particularly before we start drawing swords and hiring lobbyists,” he said.

Benton, however, said he is glad to see the board standing up to commissioners.

“I am concerned about it, and I am glad to see the board take the steps it took tonight,” he said.

Benton will be sworn in on Feb. 19.

91 Comments

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  • rushbot Feb 8, 5:21 p.m.

    I sure wish Tedesco would go back to from wherever he originated! This guy does not belong in NC politics.

  • krimson Feb 7, 3:14 p.m.

    RoadRider18 - When you write to your State Rep, please be sure to mention that the County Commissioners hired their own Lobbyist, instigating the Board of Education to do the same...

  • roadrider18 Feb 7, 11:48 a.m.

    A governmental entity of elected officials hiring a lobbyist to influence another elected governmental entity with OUR tax dollars should be illegal.

    This is nothing but waste and abuse of precious taxpayer dollars earmarked for the education of our children. NOT money to line the pocket of some greedy/lobbying lawyer.

    I will be writing my State reps requesting legislation prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to lobby any governmental official or entity in or on behalf of North Carolina.

    This diversion of taxpayer dollars away from our children should be....F R A U D !!!

  • me2you Feb 7, 9:04 a.m.

    Can someone please explain why being Democrat or Republican should matter if you serve on the school board. Yes, I know that's reality now, but why?

  • Ex-Republican Feb 6, 6:44 p.m.

    Do we really need a school board? Really? About the only purpose they serve is giving the news media something to write about.

  • Tax Man Feb 6, 5:53 p.m.

    All of the school board members should be elected at large by all the voters of the county, not specific districts. These folks represent all of us in education matters and should be responsible to all of us, not just a few folks in one district. Also they should be able to hire a lobbyist but they should pay from their own pockets, not ours! They are the ones wanting to have someone represent them, not us! I am very happy my kids graduated a long time ago before this became such a mess.

  • krimson Feb 6, 4:43 p.m.

    "how do we go about throwing the whole group off the board?"

    Voting...

  • krimson Feb 6, 4:41 p.m.

    "All I'm saying is that I don't think it's fair that voters cannot vote on the people who make decisions on the schools our taxes support. All I want is to be able to hold these officials accountable at the ballot box. It's beyond me why others would not feel the same way."

    Understandable, but should we complain that we cannot vote in the Virginia Senate Race, or the SC House Race, even though those elected representative go on and make decisions in DC that influence NC???

    As for changes to specific schools, someone more familiar could probably tell us, but I don't think individual members can make changes to individual schools in their districts w/o first getting the approval from the rest of the board???

  • ncteacher22 Feb 6, 4:24 p.m.

    Ok...how do we go about throwing the whole group off the board?I used to be proud of Wake Co.(the board did it's job, you never heard a peep out of them) Now Wake Co. has become a joke!

  • cjw6105 Feb 6, 4:18 p.m.

    As of next month, there will be 2 districts in Wake County where the voters had no say on their representative, who was chosen by the other board members that they could not vote for.

    I understand how the districts work in Wake County. What I don't understand is why my neighborhood can be assigned to a school that lies in another district under the jurisdiction of a school board representative who I cannot vote for.

    This is a big deal when that board member wants to change programs in that school.

    I'm not making a case here for either liberals or conservatives. All I'm saying is that I don't think it's fair that voters cannot vote on the people who make decisions on the schools our taxes support. All I want is to be able to hold these officials accountable at the ballot box. It's beyond me why others would not feel the same way.

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