Local Politics

At-large school board seats divide Wake leaders

Posted April 28, 2008 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated April 29, 2008 10:42 a.m. EDT

— The system for electing Wake County school board members has divided county commissioners and area mayors.

Mayors in Apex, Cary, Garner, Holly Springs and Rolesville want to scrap the existing system of nine single-member districts to add some for of at-large seats. They made their pitch Monday to state lawmakers, who would have to approve the change, during a meeting to discuss a local agenda for the coming legislative session.

"We believe that at-large elections in Wake County would provide for more equitable representation for all voters in Wake County," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said. "I think when each family only can have representation by one of nine members, even when their child may go to school in another district, it's not a good system."

Mayors in Wake Forest, Zebulon, Morrisville and Wendell want to keep the current districts, and Raleigh could vote as early as next week on a resolution opposing any change to the system. Leaders in Fuquay-Varina and Knightdale haven't weighed in on the debate.

Backers of at-large seats said they're upset with controversial topics like reassignments and the district's attempt last year to force people to attend year-round schools.

Some parents also support a change to at-large representation.

"I don't think the school board acts in a way where they feel accountable to all the voters," Cary parent Joe Ciulla said.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners split along party lines in a 4-3 vote to call for at-large school board seats.

"I don't think that one elected board should tell another elected board how they should be elected," said Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, who was in the Democratic minority on the board. "I am very supportive of the school board. We have an excellent school system in Wake County."

State Rep. Ty Harrell said he wants to resolve the dispute.

"I've heard from some of the parents. I want to hear from some of the school board members. I want to make sure we're bringing all of the entities together to address this troubling concern," Harrell said.

Other items local officials would like legislators to address this year is a $5 increase in vehicle-registration fees in Raleigh, more authority for Cary officials to demolish rundown property or force repairs and a higher cap on the number of charter schools in North Carolina.