Wake commissioners chair presents legislative wish list

mquillin@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2013 

Wake County commissioner Joe Bryan

Wake County Board of Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan told the county’s legislative delegation on Monday that if commissioners took over the ownership, construction and maintenance of schools, the elected school board would still decide where schools are built.

Bryan was one of several local leaders who met with lawmakers to express their hopes for the current legislative session. As Bryan did, most asked that legislators not issue any new unfunded mandates.

Bryan also presented the wish list approved by the Republican majority of his board: to let the county commission take over school construction, ownership and maintenance; to change the way the board of education is elected, so that four of its nine seats are chosen at large; and to let the county give charter schools money to help build facilities.

The school board is opposed to the changes, which haven’t emerged as legislation yet.

At Monday’s meeting, Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holly, a Democrat, asked Bryan how the commission would decide where to build schools, when the school board is most familiar with the system’s needs.

“That stays with the school board,” Bryan said, along with decisions about academic programming.

Both the commissioners and the county school board have said they will lobby the legislature on the three issues, the most contentious of which is who will be responsible for the school buildings. That provision may be proposed as an option for counties across the state.

After the meeting, Rep. Rosa Gill, a Democrat, said she could not support such a change without buy-in from the school board.

“This is one-sided,” she said.

Rep. Deborah Ross, another Democrat, also spoke against the proposal.

“I cannot see any way that I would be supporting it,” she said. “I’m of the opinion that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

But Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican, said he was interested in the ownership option on a statewide basis, because it could mean cost savings and tax benefits for all counties. He agreed with Wake commissioners’ assertions that by taking over the construction, ownership and maintenance of buildings, they would be lifting a burden from the board of education. That would allow the board of education to focus better on students’ academic needs, Dollar said.

While the proposal has been debated for years, it has become a partisan fight in recent months, with the Republican majority on the board of commissioners saying they would better stewards of taxpayers’ money than the school board, which is led by Democrats. School board members have called the legislative appeal a power grab.

If legislation comes to a vote, it’s generally expected to pass in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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