Under the Dome

Democratic legislators on watch for school takeover bill

Democratic legislators are keeping an eye on whether a vote on a controversial plan to pilot charter takeover of low-performing schools in North Carolina will be delayed until next year.

State Rep. Rob Bryan, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said Thursday, that his plan is to have a House select committee study the proposal and hold public meetings early in 2016, with a vote in next year’s short session. But Rep. Rosa Gill, a Raleigh Democrat, said Thursday that Democrats want to make sure it doesn’t pop up next week before the legislature potentially adjourns for the rest of the year.

“We’re trying to fight it,” Gill said of the bill. “We think we’ve got it in a study bill, but we don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend because they’re having their convention and it may change and come back to the original bill come Monday.”

Under the proposed bill, five of the state’s lowest-scoring traditional public schools would be forced to close or convert to independently run charter schools as part of a statewide Achievement School District Pilot. It’s modeled on charter school takeovers in New Orleans and Tennessee.

Bryan is hoping that the pilot will be successful enough that it can be expanded on a much wider basis.

But it’s this expansion that worries supporters of traditional public schools like Gill, a former Wake County teacher and school board member.

Gill warned attendees at a Thursday forum organized by the left-leaning Great Schools in Wake Coalition that the pilot could lead to every school with a D or F grade under the state’s performance grade system being taken over by a charter operator in the next 10 years.

The official purpose of Thursday’s forum was to discuss ways how to help keep the Wake County school system diverse as it deals with a rising number of high poverty and racially isolated schools. More than 40 elected officials and community leaders, mostly Democrats, were at the forum.

Most of the speakers Thursday had at least some disparaging remarks to make about the GOP-led General Assembly. Gill was no different, at times referring to Republican lawmakers as “jokers” and “clowns” that need to be removed from power.

“We’ve got to get rid of the clowns,” Gill said to laughter and clapping from the audience.

Gill warned that the General Assembly would be an obstacle to efforts to make Wake County the best school system in the nation.

“I hope that we can keep the General Assembly out of the county commissioners’ and the school board’s official duties,” Gill said, drawing an “amen” from at least one person.

“Now the only way we can do that is to get rid of some of them jokers down there,” Gill continued as she drew laughter. “I know you can’t help us, but I just want you to know that you’re not only going to have to fight the parents in the county, you’re not only going to have to fight the naysayers, I think you’re going to have to fight the legislature.

“Because the legislators will tell you – some of them right now – it’s our responsibility to provide the best public education for all students. But that’s not what they’re doing.”