Wake’s school needs

Wake County commissioners should put disputes aside to meet the need for more schools.

November 24, 2012 

Here’s news. From the look of things, Wake County schools have a new superintendent.

And he’s working for free.

His name is Paul Coble. Yes, that Paul Coble, the former Raleigh mayor and current Republican chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

But now he’s wearing an additional hat. He apparently thinks he’s running the school system, or trying to.

Coble gave a speech this week about the state of the county and followed it up with pointed comments about the state of the schools.

He declared that the system should not expect to get a school construction bond issue on the 2013 ballot unless the school board completes this to-do list: Hire an actual superintendent to replace the fired Tony Tata, develop and approve a student assignment plan and, by the way, clean up your act and your public image.

“These are things that have to happen before we can move forward,” Coble said. “The voters are not happy with the school board.”

School board vice chairman Keith Sutton, a Democrat, responded to Coble’s directions by pointing out that the need for more schools isn’t in dispute.

But, Sutton said, the school board can’t put a bond issue on the ballot. That’s up to the commissioners. Coble could be a lot more helpful if he’d acknowledge that his differences with the board over school policy shouldn’t stand in the way of meeting the obvious and pressing need for more classrooms.

Since the last bond issue in 2006, the Wake school system has added over 21,400 students to reach nearly 150,000 students. But the commissioners, who control the system’s finances, have kept the schools on a painfully short budget leash.

The irony of Coble’s misgivings about the school board is that its problems stem in large degree from the 2009 election of Republicans he favored. They took over the board’s majority and promptly jettisoned economic diversity as an element in school assignments. That threw the board’s proceedings into chaos and triggered the arrests of demonstrators and the filing of civil rights complaints. The Republican majority hired Tata, a former general held in great esteem by Coble.

But Tata added to the discord by challenging the ethics of Democratic board members and presiding over a meltdown of the school transportation system. Lately, two of the board’s Republican members, Debra Goldman and Chris Malone, turned the board into a soap opera involving burglary and alleged affairs.

Meanwhile, the starved school system’s needs grow. Starting in December, 12 schools may have their enrollments capped, forcing newcomers to those schools’ attendance zones to go to overflow schools. There’s likely more of that to come.

Now Coble is meddling in school affairs and pressing a board that’s trying to recover from a dose of the politics he supports.

He should get back on board – his own board – and get behind putting a school bond on the ballot.

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