Nearly half of the nine-member Wake County school board will turn over at a time when leaders of North Carolina’s largest school system face a range of challenging issues.
On Tuesday, new board members Donald Agee, Roxie Cash and Lindsay Mahaffey will be sworn into office alongside the five school board members who were re-elected Nov. 8. The new group of eight will soon appoint a replacement for Zora Felton, who died a week after running unopposed for re-election.
Here’s a look at some of the issues the board will face and what impact this new combination of members could have on the district.
New members, same direction?
The officially non-partisan school board will look more bipartisan now. It has been made up of seven Democrats, one Republican and one unaffiliated member. Not including Felton’s replacement, it will now have five Democrats and three Republicans.
But the new board is expected to largely continue the direction launched by its predecessors. That includes lobbying local and state leaders for more money for schools, and also adding more magnet schools as opposed to using student assignment to diversify high-poverty and racially imbalanced school enrollments.
Agee, a retired Wake school facilities employee who ousted board chairman Tom Benton, could keep his new colleagues and the administration on their toes. Agee campaigned as a critic of the district’s spending priorities, saying that money could be better allocated into the classroom.
“I would hope to have a big involvement with the facilities committee,” Agee said. “Outside of that, I’m just looking at the main mission of being on the board, which is oversight of the school administration.”
Cash, who is taking the seat vacated by Kevin Hill, could bring veteran leadership after having been a board member from 1991 to 1999. The former board chairwoman has talked about her ability to work with board members regardless of political affiliation.
Mahaffey, who campaigned on her background as a teacher, could inherit Felton’s role as a voice for educators. The departures of Benton, Felton and Hill mean Mahaffey will be the only board member with K-12 teaching experience. She’s taking the seat vacated by Susan Evans.
Busy agenda Tuesday
One of the first actions after the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday will be the election of a new board chair to replace Benton.
Tuesday’s agenda also includes the adoption of the 2017-18 student assignment plan. The old board gave its unofficial blessing to the plan last week, but parents are expected to make a last-ditch plea Tuesday to the new board to change the plan.
With less controversy, the board is scheduled to vote on a plan for issuing one-time $500 bonuses to the district’s lowest-paid employees.
New board members will also jump into the process of working on the new contract for Superintendent Jim Merrill, who last month was named the N.C. Superintendent of the Year. But a vote on Merrill’s contract extension and raise may not come until later in December.
One of the most important decisions the board will face in the next few months is filling the open seat representing District 7.
Based on recent practice, the board will likely set an application deadline for candidates who live in the district, which includes northwest Raleigh, Morrisville and part of Cary.
After reviewing the applications and interviewing the candidates in an open meeting, the board would appoint someone to serve Felton’s term, which runs to December 2018.
Setting the school budget
Early in 2017, the school board will start to determine how much money to request from the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
The school board got a record $44.6 million increase from the county in 2015. But when the school board received only $23.9 million of a requested $35.7 million increase last year, it led to cuts such as reducing how often schools are vacuumed and swept.
Student assignment again
The school board is scheduled to put one student assignment plan to bed Tuesday, but members will be dealing with the next one in the latter half of 2017.
Next summer and fall, Wake will finalize the 2018-19 assignment plan, which is expected to largely focus on filling four new schools: South Garner High and Bryan Road Elementary in Garner, Apex Friendship Middle in Apex and Buckhorn Creek Elementary in Holly Springs.
Getting ready for next school bond
The latter half of 2017 should also see the school board working to get a proposed May 2018 school construction bond referendum ready.
Earlier this year, the school board and county commissioners agreed on a new seven-year, $1.98 billion school capital improvement program. The county is providing money to cover the first two years of the building program until a potential 2018 bond referendum to fund $986 million of the costs.