Business leaders urge Wake school compromise

khui@newsobserver.comMarch 20, 2013 

— Business leaders tried Wednesday to persuade the Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board to compromise over school ownership and school board elections, but the effort fell flat.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce urged both boards to resolve the issues on their own before pending state legislation passes. While school leaders were receptive, Joe Bryan, chairman of the Wake Commissioners, said he sees no need to negotiate before legislators give the county ownership of schools and change how and when the school board is elected.

“It’s a little late in the day for the Chamber, and they’re not presenting much,” Bryan, a Republican, said Wednesday.

State Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, said Wednesday he has no plans to withdraw either of the two bills he introduced at commissioners’ request.

One bill, S. 236, would allow all 100 county governments to control ownership, construction, design and maintenance of schools, taking that power away from school systems.

The other bill, S. 325, would allow Wake County voters to cast ballots for two school board seats, instead of one district seat now, by creating two regional districts that each represent half the county.

The bill also redraws the boundaries of the other board districts, extends the terms of some board members and shortens the length of others – all part of a plan to move the elections to even-numbered years.

Leaders of the chamber said Wednesday at a news conference they can’t support either bill.

“The best solution is a local compromise between the two boards,” said George York, chairman of the chamber’s education committee. “This is state legislation that’s really proposed to fix a local problem.”

Instead, the group revived an unsuccessful proposal it made in 2008, under which the commissioners would increase school funding in return for taking over construction, ownership and acquisition of schools. According to the deal, the school system would keep the duties of locating, designing and maintaining schools.

The chamber is requesting that a citizen committee be appointed to review different school board election models and to make a recommendation to both boards for any changes.

“While we are not in favor of the legislation the way it is written, we are hoping that it will be used as a catalyst to force the two boards into a room together to hammer out an agreement,” said Jim Captain, chairman of the chamber’s board.

School board Vice Chairwoman Christine Kushner, a Democrat, said the group had made a sound suggestion that will move the community forward.

“These decisions need to be made at the local level and not by the state,” she said.

Bryan said he sees no need to discuss the school board elections proposal.

Bryan said that they’d discuss the school construction issues after the legislation passes. But he said they won’t revisit the chamber’s school funding proposal as part of that discussion.

The proposal came as the chamber prepares to host a joint meeting Thursday of both boards to discuss developing a school construction bond referendum for this fall. School officials will present $2.2 billion in needs through the 2016-17 school year, according to school system documents.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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