Senate bill calls for changing Wake school board elections

khui@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2013 

A bill introduced Wednesday in the state Senate would dramatically alter both how and when Wake County school board members are elected. And it would force at least some current members out of their seats early.

The bill, S325, would make it possible for Wake County voters to pick two of the nine school board members, up from the current practice where all nine seats are from districts and voters only get to select the one representing their district.

The bill also would redraw the boundaries for the districts, and it would postpone this fall’s elections, giving four members several extra months on the board and shortening the terms of the other five members by more than a year.

Several current members also would be grouped into the same district under the bill.

The Republican majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners had asked legislators to change state law to create four at-large, countywide school board seats and five district seats. Commissioners wanted voters to be allowed to pick a majority of the school board seats.

Joe Bryan, Republican chairman of the county commissioners, said the bill isn’t quite what they had asked for.

“It does increase the number of people that voters can choose,” Bryan said Wednesday. “But it’s not exactly the way I would have done it.”

The wording could be changed as it goes through the legislature.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, and Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican. Neither could be reached for comment Wednesday. The bill was submitted on the last day local bills affecting individual counties had to be filed in the Senate.

With the legislature controlled by Republicans, the bill has a good chance of passing.

No vote until 2014

Currently, school board elections are held in odd-numbered years, with four seats that would be on this October’s ballot.

But under the bill, all nine board seats would instead be on the ballot in 2014 as part of a move to put the elections in even-numbered years. The bill would hold the elections at the same time as the May primaries, although the school races would still officially be non-partisan.

The bill would lead to longer terms for Republicans Bill Fletcher, Deborah Prickett and John Tedesco and Democrat Tom Benton. It would shorten the terms of the five other Democrats on the board – Susan Evans, Kevin Hill, Christine Kushner, Jim Martin and Keith Sutton.

New district boundaries

The lines would be redone so that two districts, the newly created A and B, would each represent half the county. District B would represent more of the suburban areas, while District A’s boundaries would contain urban areas, including the part of Raleigh inside the Beltline.

The bill would have Districts A and B initially run for two-year terms. They’d then have four-year terms starting in 2016.

The other seven districts, whose borders would be enlarged because of the changes, would run in 2014 for four-year terms.

The bill creates the boundaries for all these districts instead of leaving it up to the school board to draw them.

An analysis of the boundaries in the bill shows that several board members would be placed in the same district. For instance, Evans, Martin and Fletcher, who was appointed to fill a vacancy by the Democratic majority on Saturday, would be in the same district.

The Democratic majority on the school board and the Democratic county commissioners have opposed efforts to change the elections.

Democratic Commissioner Betty Lou Ward on Wednesday questioned all the upheaval that the bill would cause while not creating any countywide school board seats.

“If they’re still going to have districts, they may as well leave them as they are,” she said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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