Redrawing Wake’s school voting districts is a bad idea

March 18, 2013 

It was, when first produced by Republican commissioners in Wake County, an idea fraught will all sorts of really bad possibilities.

Basically, commissioners angered by budget clashes with Democratic school board members – and annoyed that the board majority had fired former Superintendent Tony Tata, who’d been hired by a previous Republican majority – decided to propose to the General Assembly that the way we elect school board members be changed.

Instead of nine board members each elected from a district, the commissioners wanted four at-large seats and five districts. And, just for good measure, they wanted to be given ownership of school property rather than leave it with the school board.

The proposed change has resulted in a truly confusing, unnecessary and politically vindictive bill in the state Senate, introduced by Sens. Neal Hunt and Chad Barefoot of Wake County.

Even they must be confused – because their proposal doesn’t exactly follow what commissioners wanted.

The new board as designed on Jones Street (where districts also were redrawn) would have two regional members, each representing half the county. There would be seven districts. Voters would cast one vote for a regional member and one for a district member. And all nine board seats would be up for election in 2014, which would lengthen the terms of some members and shorten the terms of others. Wisely, seats have been up for election in staggered years to maintain a level of experience.

Curiously, new district boundaries, would put three current members, Susan Evans, Jim Martin and Bill Fletcher, in the same district, which presumably means two of them would have to go or run for a regional seat.

It happens that Evans, Martin and the recently appointed Fletcher are of similar moderate views. If adopted, the changes would mean that Republican state lawmakers have effectively overruled Wake voters in order to put all the seats up for grabs at the same time.

The district system has worked well and should not be changed. The existence of at-large seats is a plainly political ploy.

It would enable deep-pocketed Republicans, or those with deep-pocketed friends such as Art Pope of Raleigh, to spend heavily to gain the regional seats and then spend some more to get a majority by investing in races in other districts.

The Wake school board has been working well on ordering some of the chaos created by the 2009 Republican majority. But now, because Republican commissioners don’t want to leave well-enough alone, chaos is looming again.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service