NC House panel alters Wake school board elections

khui@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2013 

Senator Neal Hunt


— Wake County school board members might no longer require a majority of votes to be elected, and might run in contests held in November during presidential and mid-term congressional election years.

Those are among the changes to Senate Bill 325 approved Wednesday by a state House panel that would affect how and when Wake school board members are elected. The latest changes come on top of others the state Senate adopted last month that would toss out the boundaries for the nine board seats in favor of new ones drafted by legislative staffers.

The House Elections Committee added new wording Wednesday that says Wake school board candidates would need only a plurality to win. Currently, a candidate who falls short of a majority could face a runoff election.

House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, said the change was made because legislators want to move the elections to November of even-numbered years to increase turnout. The Senate version would have moved the elections to the spring primaries of even-numbered years.

Currently, school board elections are held in October of odd-numbered years with run-offs taking place in November.

“We want to maximize turnout,” Stam said after Wednesday’s committee meeting.

The bill would introduce the new lines and election cycles in 2016. It would result in seven board seats appearing on the ballot during presidential elections, with two new regional seats usually on the ballot during mid-term elections.

The candidate with a plurality in October often wins in the runoff, as in the cases of members Kevin Hill in 2011 and John Tedesco in 2009.

But there have been instances when the candidate with the plurality lost in the runoff, such as in the 1997 race with conservative businessman Bob Luddy and in 1999 with Don Carrington, vice president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Board seat boundaries

Most of the focus Wednesday was on the changing of the boundaries that had been adopted in 2011 by the former Republican school board majority. Democratic-backed candidates won under those lines that year to regain the majority.

The bill turns two of the nine board seats into regional districts, each representing half the county. The bill would allow voters to pick two board seats, one for their district and one for their region. Creating the two regional districts meant redrawing the lines for the other seven seats.

Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat, charged that the bill was an attempt to get at school board members who were unable to attend Wednesday because they’re meeting with the finalists to become the next superintendent.

“What is completely unnecessary in this bill is redrawing the lines for the seven current school board members to get rid of the ones that certain people don’t like and who can’t be here to speak for themselves,” she said.

Republicans defeated a proposal to delay the vote until June 6.

Stam argued a delay was unnecessary because they already know the school board is opposed to the bill. He also said they should vote now before their agenda gets busy on the new state budget.

“We’re getting down into the short rows of the session, and this happens to be a time when we’re not full right now,” he said.

Republicans also defeated a proposal from Ross to include a November 2014 referendum for Wake County voters on the changes.

“It would only be fair to our citizens to allow them to weigh in on this before it went into effect,” she said.

The bill now goes to the full House. Since Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican and the bill’s main sponsor, backs the changes, Stam said, it would take only another affirmative vote from the Senate before it becomes law.

Since the bill involves only Wake County, it would not require the signature of Gov. Pat McCrory.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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