Wake boards make a much-needed peace

February 28, 2014 

This is good news. The Wake County commissioners and the county school board have stopped fighting about construction and instead have done something constructive.

On Thursday, the commissioners agreed to give up their effort to snatch control of school construction from the school board. In return, the school board agreed to involve the Board of Commissioners in the planning process. The agreement clears an obstacle as the school system begins finding school sites and planning building projects funded by the $810 million school construction bond issue voters approved in October.

The accommodation did not just happen. Politics likely played a role. Three Republican commissioners are up for election, and GOP Commissioner Tony Gurley’s seat is open. He has resigned to take a job in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

Clearly, the GOP members didn’t want to go into this election remembered mainly for their endless criticism of the Democratic school board and their attempts to take over school construction and management. They even tried to get the state legislature, with Republicans in control, to approve a takeover through legislation. The bill passed the state Senate but stalled in the House. Lawmakers have the option of taking it up again in the short session that opens in May.

But even if politics and the upcoming election are figured in, commissioners nonetheless deserve credit for making a deal in the best interests of the school system and its students. The disputes between the two Wake boards have been endless since Democrats retook control of the school board after a tumultuous two years in Republican control.

Public boards, which succeed or fail based on cooperation and compromise, have to relate to each other. The tense joint meetings between the two boards were not helpful to schools, students or citizens. The members of the boards, after all, have in common a spirit for public service. Their board duties take a lot of time and often require evening hours away from family, and membership isn’t necessarily a launching pad to higher office. This is local government where it counts.

Were school board members too resistant to input from commissioners? Perhaps, and they might have made more progress with commissioners if they’d sought more suggestions and ideas long ago. But commissioners didn’t make it easy, and they do, after all, hold the power of the purse over the school board. School board members did not always react well in the dispute over construction authority, but Republican commissioners clearly provoked the tension by reaching for the power that belongs to another elected board.

For the residents of this community, the interest is simple: They want good schools and enough of them, and they want school sites to be selected in a sensible, logical fashion. They expect high standards in construction, but they also want schools to be attractive and inviting and conducive to good learning. It has always been so in Wake County, where many parents are active in their children’s schools.

Those ought to be objectives shared by all elected officials This agreement, reached after years of discussions about control of property, ought to smooth the way. The school system might have stumbled a time or two on property purchases, but it has managed things well during recent decades of rapid growth that have required extensive construction.

Let us hope that these two boards will put the hatchet in the ground and move on in the best interests of North Carolina’s largest school system.

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