Will the Wake County school board's decision Tuesday to back a statewide resolution opposing transferring school ownership to county commissioners be a good or bad thing?
As noted in today's article, Republican school board members tried to talk their colleagues out of voting on the resolution Tuesday. But members of the Democratic board majority insisted they needed to respond to what's now become a statewide issue since the Wake County Board of Commissioners made the request.
“This is not the best way to deal with these situations," said Democratic board member Jim Martin. "But we’re not in the best situation. This is an issue that should have been discussed between our two boards. It shouldn’t be going to the legislature.”
Martin said commissioners need to show a business case for how it will save money for them to take over construction, ownership and maintenance of schools.
Martin said he'd be willing to rescind his support for the resolution if Wake commissioners dropped their request for the legislative change.
But Republican board member John Tedesco said he was concerned about "this continuing tit for tat." During the work session, Tedesco advocated trying to work out a deal with commissioners to have some say over school construction before the state legislation is introduced and adopted and takes the district out of the picture.
"We’ve got a lot of fighting and a lot of sword swinging and a bunch of kids in the middle," Tedesco said. "This only exacerbates it. It’s one more little step, even if it’s a small one, to continue to exacerbate it in a way and put another brick in the wall between the two boards. I would be for tearing down the bricks in the wall."
Democratic board member Susan Evans said she welcomes the chance to talk with commissioners. But she complained that the commissioners acted without telling them of their plans even though they had met a few days before the legislative agenda was adopted.
‘It was somewhat disrespectful for the county commissioners to jump over us and to start a conversation at the state level before we had a chance to weigh the pros and cons and offer a compromise," Evans said.
"This resolution drives the wedge further between this board and the Wake County Commissioners," responded Republican school board member Deborah Prickett. "it’s a mistake to do something like this at this time. It’s fuel to the fire.”
New Democratic school board member Tom Benton called it a "shot across the bow" by commissioners. But he asked Sutton what the harm would be of delaying the vote until after both boards can discuss it at Thursday's joint meeting on the school bond issue.
Tedesco had made a similar suggestion during the work session, saying it would provide a 48-hour breather.
"It would be unfair and perhaps even a bit disingenuous of us as a board to postpone when 114 other school boards across the state have been asked to approve this same item," answered Democratic school board chairman Keith Sutton.
Sutton added that when this issue started, the N.C. School Boards Association had come to the district's defense. Sutton said not voting Tuesday would be a "disservice" to the NCSBA.
With that answer, Benton said he'd support the resolution. But he added he'd also support rescinding it if commissioners drop the request.
Democratic board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner said it's important for the school system to retain control of the buildings where students and teachers work.
Tedesco again made a pitch to delay until after Thursday's joint meeting.
Sutton answered there are many legal reasons for passing the resolution. He noted that state statutes made the separation of powers here clear to protect citizens from misuse and abuse.
Sutton also pointed to the experience the district has building schools and the numerous design awards it has won.
“We know how to do it," Sutton said of building schools. "We know what we’re doing. I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to turn it over to a relatively inexperienced builder, at least in the standpoint of school buildings.
If we were building courthouses, if we were building jails, libraries, it might make some sense. But I for one don’t want our school building to start looking like jail cells or prisons."