Cary, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education selected Bill Fletcher Saturday to fill the vacancy left by the departure of Debra Goldman. Fletcher, a Cary resident, will represent District 9, which covers western Wake County.
Fletcher, a registered Republican, earned the support of six of the eight sitting board members, all of them Democrats. He was among six candidates to interview Saturday. Each got 30 minutes and eight questions before the board, touching on issues ranging from student assignment and growth to the board's relationship with the superintendent.
Fletcher served three terms on the board, from 1993 to 2005, and was involved in the last major bond issued advanced by the school system.
Board Chairman Keith Sutton said that experience made a difference. Fletcher will be able to hit the ground running. He will be sworn in at the board's next meeting, March 19.
As he serves out Goldman's term, his history with successful bonds will come into play.
The Wake County Public School System has projected 2 percent annual enrollment growth for the next decade and needs up to 16 new elementary schools, five middle schools and six high schools to keep up with the new students. Also, many older schools need extensive renovations.
Officials have estimated that construction and renovation needs could reach $2 billion by 2020. A bond for that amount could add as much as 16 cents to the property tax rate for Wake County residents.
While both school board and county commissioners recognize the need for a bond, they have butted heads over how school construction should be funded. In a joint meeting last month, the boards demonstrated the tension that exists between the Republican-led county commissioners and the Democratic-majority school board.
The commissioners maintain that they would be more fiscally responsible in operating the assets and that the move would allow the school board to concentrate on policy and curriculum.
School board Chairman Keith Sutton likened the commissioners' effort to a "hostile takeover" of a business, and board member Susan Evans said it was a sign of disrespect.
Members of both boards said the acrimony between to the two elected bodies puts any appeal to voters for money at risk.
Fletcher and the board have other big issues on their plate as well.
They will look to stabilize student assignment after three years of shifting policy and they will need to hire a superintendent to replace Tony Tata, ousted last summer by the Democratic majority.
Board member John Tedesco voted against Fletcher. For him, Fletcher's connection to the past was a disadvantage.
"A lot of the reassignment our community was familiar with, this was part of the leadership that created that. And I just think it was important to be moving in a positive, fresh direction not moving backward," Tedesco said.