Bill Fletcher, who has just returned to the Wake County school board to fill out Debra Goldmans remaining term, is a thoughtful fellow with good instincts about public education. Hes also open-minded, which he proved during 12 years on the school board between 1993 and 2005.
At the beginning of Fletchers service, which then as now included some contentious discussions on diversity in school assignments, some who judged him by his Republican Party pedigree assumed he would be a predictable naysayer, a board member resistant to others ideas, particularly busing for diversity.
Fletcher proved those people wrong. In the course of his service, he acknowledged hed come to see the wisdom in diversity in school assignment, and he became an enlightened and accessible board member.
He is a member of one of Raleighs most respected families, the son of the late Fred Fletcher, a former head of Capitol Broadcasting, and grandson of the companys founder, the late A.J. Fletcher. He knows Wake County as few do.
Fletcher will be an asset in the boards dealings with Wake commissioners, who have clashed with the Democratic-majority school board. Now the commissioners are asking the General Assembly to allow them a new system of electing school board members that would be favorable to deep-pocket Republicans.
The transformation of Fletcher in his earlier school board terms speaks well of him as an elected official who was not a prisoner of ideology, and that proved valuable as Wake sought to maintain diversity in school assignments.
The challenges for the school board are daunting. A new assignment plan, the need for a large bond issue to answer over a billion dollars worth of needs, the battle with commissioners over issues such as ownership of school property (commissioners believe the county should own school property; school board members want to maintain control) all add up to a need for clear thinking and calm voices.
Fletcher was known for keeping his cool. He also was known for valuing contact with parents and school personnel to make sure he knew what was going on in individual schools and in the system.
The members of this school board or any other share a common goal of developing and protecting excellent public education in their jurisdiction. With that as a starting point, the school board should never become, as it did during the previous boards reign, a playing field for political sport. Party affiliation, prior to the Republican takeover in 2009, never seemed to matter much to voters or board members. How productive it would be if those nonpartisan days could return.
Fletcher could be a healing force for the board and the school system. Though he says he has no plans to seek another term, it would be a good day for the schools if he did.