Wake school board opposes giving up school ownership

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 20, 2013 

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— Wake County school board members voted Tuesday to oppose a proposed transfer of ownership of system schools to the Board of Commissioners, following heated debate over whether the stance would cause more harm than good.

The resolution, passed 6-2 along party lines; Democratic board members said they had to stand with the state’s other school districts in opposing proposed state legislation on school ownership supported by the Board of Commissioners. But Republican school board members said passing the resolution would only make relations with the Board of Commissioners worse and hurt their chances to have a voice in how and where schools are built.

“Maybe they put the logs down,” school board member John Tedesco, a Republican, said of the Board of Commissioners. “Maybe they even threw the match. We don’t need to get even more logs to throw on top.”

School board member Susan Evans, a Democrat, countered by saying, “We don’t need to roll over.”

The vote comes as the school board and commissioners prepare to meet Thursday to discuss development of the next school-construction bond referendum. School board chairman Keith Sutton, a Democrat, considered pulling the resolution off the agenda so it could be discussed Thursday. But Sutton ultimately decided that members needed to take a stand Tuesday.

Boards in conflict

On Jan. 22, the Republican majority on the Wake Board of Commissioners approved asking for state legislation to let that panel take over ownership of schools and to be able to fund construction of charter schools. The Board of Commissioners also requested passage of a bill that would require that four of the nine school board seats be elected at-large. That would mean candidates for those seats would run countywide.

The Democratic school board majority responded by authorizing costs of as much as $100,000 to hire a lobbyist to fight the changes in the General Assembly. The county is paying former Raleigh mayor Tom Fetzer up to $25,000 to lobby on its behalf.

Republican commissioners have long argued that school construction should be turned over to the county, a change the school board has resisted unless it were to come packaged with more funding. But now that Republicans control the General Assembly and the governor’s office, the chance that this legislation will pass is stronger than before.

“This is a situation that should have been discussed by our two boards and shouldn’t have gone to the legislature,” said school board member Jim Martin, a Democrat.

Proposal before parley

It’s become a statewide issue, with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners backing Wake’s board and the N.C. School Boards Association asking school boards across the state to pass resolutions opposing the proposal changing school ownership.

Sutton said the school board would have been willing to discuss the issue with commissioners if the Board of Commissioners had approached the Board of Education first instead of seeking legislation.

But Sutton also said that he doesn’t want schools built like jails or prisons.

“I have to say for me personally when it was put out in the legislative agenda that was a sort of a throwing down of the gauntlet,” he said.

Evans noted that both boards met less than a week before the Board of Commissioners approved asking for the legislative changes.

“It’s sad that we didn’t sit around that table and have open conversation about this,” she said.

“They knew about this and chose not to have a conversation with us. That’s egregious.”

Board member Deborah Prickett, a Republican, said Sutton shouldn’t have called what the Board of Commissioners wants a “power grab.”

Tedesco said the school board should try to work out the best possible compromise before the legislation passes and members are totally shut out of issues such as school design.

“We’ve got a lot of fighting and a lot of sword swinging, with a bunch of kids in between,” he said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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