Wake County Schools

Wake commissioners want control of school construction

Posted February 4, 2011 6:46 p.m. EST
Updated February 4, 2011 7:13 p.m. EST

— Twenty-five schools will need to be built in Wake County over the next decade to meet projected enrollment growth, officials said, and some county commissioners want to take control of the process from the school board.

Paul Coble, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said Friday that the county could save money by handling school construction.

"It's actually cheaper for us to do it, when you look at the bottom line. We even get a tax break when we do it. We don't pay sales tax on materials," Coble said, noting that the school board isn't eligible for the same tax break.

Past school boards have resisted suggestions to cede control of school construction to the county, maintaining design and quality of infrastructure are tied to student learning, which is their domain.

The idea resurfaced during a Board of Commissioners retreat on Friday when some commissioners bristled at the school district placing $12 million in county funds last year into a reserve fund.

"What they're saying is perhaps they did not need as much money as they thought they needed," Coble said. "If there's a call for additional funding, we will point them to their reserve balance."

School board members said they need the reserve fund to handle unexpected expenses.

"I think the idea of us having a sound fiscal policy, of having a fund balance, should not be held against the school system," school board member John Tedesco said.

Despite the friction, Tedesco and school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said they support the idea of the county handling school construction so they can focus more on educating students.

"I'd love to see the Board of Education spend more quality time focusing on student achievement than on construction," Tedesco said.

School board member Keith Sutton said that, if the board relinquished that control, he would like to see county commissioners increase school funding whenever there's an enrollment increase.

Some county commissioners said they want more time to study the school construction issue before any changes are made.

"When you talk about purpose and function and accountability, I just think we need to sit down and have more dialog," Commissioner James West said.