Wake education, political leaders try to find common ground

mquillin@newsobserver.comFebruary 21, 2014 

— The Wake County school board on Friday promised to be more transparent with its school-building process, and the Board of Commissioners said it would loosen the purse strings – if the two boards can hammer out an agreement on how they can work together.

Members of the two boards, their attorneys and staffs gathered for a joint meeting Friday in hopes of giving mutual approval to such an inter-local agreement. Both sides agreed to take one version of the proposal, send it into a meeting next Thursday with members of both groups and let them hash out a document to which all could agree.

After a couple of years of tension between the two boards, there is a sense of urgency that they must find a way to work together so the county can begin in earnest the construction of new schools and the renovation of others in order to stay on schedule. The projects need to be completed to keep up with student-population growth.

The flashpoint between the two boards is control over site selection, school construction, ownership and maintenance. The school board, presently led by a Democratic majority, has statutory authority over the process, but the Republican majority on the board of commissioners has said school leaders have not been good stewards of tax money.

Republican commissioners failed in an attempt last year to get the legislature to let them take over the school construction process. Since then, they have been reluctant to release money to the school board needed to launch design work and land purchases for new schools, including some to be paid for by $810 million in bonds voters approved last fall.

The agreement would spell out ways in which the boards, and more importantly, their staffs would collaborate on the process to ensure the county gets the best deal on building the best schools.

At Friday’s meeting, Joe Desormeaux, the schools’ assistant superintendent for facilities, and deputy County Manager Johnna Rogers presented a slide show highlighting ways in which the two staffs already work well together and citing ways in which they could improve.

School board Chairwoman Christine Kushner and commissioners Chairman Phil Matthews both were encouraged.

“We had a good meeting,” Matthews said. “We got some things accomplished.”

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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