Wake school board might revive eliminated committee work

Committees used to be helpful and should be restored, Democratic members say.

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 11, 2011 

Members of the new Democratic majority on the Wake County school board vented frustrations over the past two years of Republican rule as they talked Saturday about how to best govern the state's largest school system.

Democrats are looking at undoing some of the changes made by their Republican predecessors, including reinstating the board committees that had been eliminated. Democrats argued that getting rid of the committees and having the full board review issues had resulted in them having less information and discussion before making decisions.

"Our work sessions have been show-and-tell, with just-in-time delivery," new Democratic board Chairman Kevin Hill said during a board retreat Saturday.

But Republican board members argued that the committee meetings were redundant because most board members attended the committee sessions, then the same issues would be discussed again at work sessions and during regular meetings.

The board had committees on areas such as student achievement, facilities, finance and policy.

Republicans also pointed to the time commitment that the committee meetings put on board members and education staffers.

"It's very time-consuming not just for staff but for us," said Republican board member Chris Malone. "A lot of us work for a living."

But new Democratic member Jim Martin said all the members knew what they were getting into when they joined the board.

"Democratic governance isn't efficient," Martin said. "If you want efficiency, you'd have a dictator. But we don't want that."

New Democratic board Vice Chairman Keith Sutton said the meetings became redundant because Democrats were distrustful of the way the Republicans ran the committees as they passed changes such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment.

"If there's leadership and trust for the work of the committees, we won't have the redundancy issue," Sutton said.

Prickly moments

New Democratic board member Susan Evans said that by the time information gets to the board table, it's often too far down the path for the board to pick it apart.

"I'm uncomfortable with the glossy-level presentations the board has been getting recently," Evans said.

Her remarks drew objections from Superintendent Tony Tata.

"I don't believe the staff has been providing glossy, facile information to the board," he said.

Republican board member Deborah Prickett also objected to the remarks accusing the old majority of exercising poor governance. She said the school system has "made great progress" since 2009.

"I kind of take offense to that," Prickett said. "I feel like I provided good governance. I can't let that go by. That's not being respectful of everyone here."

Jim Huge, the facilitator for the meeting, told board members they "need to talk with each other instead of talking about each other."

Sutton offered Prickett a public apology if she was offended by any of the remarks he had made.

Hill will meet with Tata to discuss how to re-establish the committees, which he said perform a valuable service for the district.

"The grunt work is done at the committee level," Hill said. "The heavy lifting is done there."

Hui: 919-829-4534

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