Cary, N.C. — The career educator appointed to fill one of two vacant seats on the Wake County Board of Education was sworn in Tuesday ahead of a looming showdown between the board and county commissioners over who controls school buildings.
Thomas Benton, who worked for decades as a teacher and principal in Wake County schools, will represent District 1 in northeast Raleigh for the rest of Chris Malone's term, which expires in November. Malone resigned from the school board in December after being elected to the state House of Representatives.
Next month, the board is expected to start the interviewing and voting process for a second new board member, who will replace Debra Goldman. Goldman resigned from the board last month after accepting a job in Wilkes County.
Benton joins the board at a critical time, when there is division over how to handle the Wake County Board of Commissioners' 2013 legislative agenda, which includes taking away ownership and oversight of school sites and buildings from the school system and giving it to commissioners.
After the commissioners approved their legislative agenda last month, the North Carolina School Boards Association came to the Wake County school board's defense by releasing an official position on school property ownership, said Chairman Keith Sutton.
The school board then drafted a resolution in support of the association's stance – that local school boards, not county commissioners, should control school properties – and voted 5-2 to approve it Tuesday night.
The NCSBA has also asked 114 school boards across North Carolina to approve similar resolutions.
Sutton said school boards have experience buying, building and maintaining schools, while commissioners do not.
"We know what we are doing," he said.
Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner agreed, adding "it's very important to state our desire to control the building our employees work in."
Board member John Tedesco, however, said he has reservations about going head to head with commissioners, and would prefer both boards sit down and discuss the issues facing Wake County students, families and taxpayers.
"We've got a lot of fighting and swords swinging, and a whole bunch of kids in the middle," he said.
The school board and county commission plan to meet Thursday.