Wake County Schools

Wake voters could decide every school board race

Posted January 18, 2011 6:37 p.m. EST
Updated January 18, 2011 7:25 p.m. EST

Wake County Public School System

— Wake County commissioners said Tuesday that they plan to ask state lawmakers to adjust the way Wake County Board of Education members are elected so that voters can cast ballots in every school board race.

The issue of at-large school board elections has been debated for years but never went anywhere. The political dynamics that have engulfed the school board over the past year have rekindled the argument.

Republican Commissioner Tony Gurley said Tuesday that he has proposed a hybrid system for the school board that would include both district and at-large seats, similar to the way the Raleigh City Council is organized.

"(It's) a way that would benefit the entire county as opposed to just the district," Gurley said.

He and fellow county commissioners already are voted on by the entire county, although they live in specific districts.

"I'm accountable to all the people in Wake County because they all had an opportunity to vote for me," Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said.

The school board hasn't taken a position on a possible change, but Chairman Ron Margiotta said that he supports a countywide vote.

Critics have warned that countywide races would mean more expensive campaigns for school board, which could invite more special interests. Also, some parents demand having a board member who personally knows their schools and neighborhoods.

Parent Jean Geratz, who said she's no fan of the current school board, argues that a countywide vote would empower her at the polls.

"We had no voice in the last election – none at all. We had no ability to have an impact on our school board," Geratz said.

Four of the nine school board members were elected in November 2009, creating a new majority that has changed several school district policies, including how students are assigned to schools.

The remaining five members of the school board are up for election this November.

"We're a whole county. The whole county should vote," Geratz said.

"A person in the district would know something about the area, but I guess, if you're looking at the whole thing as a whole, I guess general ideas would be put in from everywhere," parent Melesha Roberson said.

Gurley said that he pushed the at-large school board proposal years ago, but many Democrats blocked the idea.

"Now, a lot of the Democrats are not happy with the current school board, so they're looking at this in a little different light," he said. "It was a good idea four years ago. It's a good idea now."