Concerned parents and citizens packed a Monday evening meeting of Wake County lawmakers to unanimously express their opposition for two bills that would effectively weaken the power of the Wake County school board. More than 100 people signed up to speak about both the education bills and Senate Bill 334, legislation that would tear up the state’s contract with Raleigh for the Dorothea Dix campus.
Sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt (R-Wake), who came to the meeting late and left early, SB 236 would seize control of school facilities and construction from the Wake County school board and give that control to the county commissioners. Supporters of the bill say that this will allow the school board to focus on education and not have to worry about business matters; opponents say the construction of school facilities is directly related to the education programs that serve students and control should remain with the school board.
In opposition to SB 236, Raleigh citizen Lynn Edmonds said “school programming is directly related to school facilities. What teachers do and what goes on in the classroom is closely tied to the design of school buildings.”
“It is the school board, not the commissioners, who have great experience in designing and building high quality schools for Wake County,” explained Edmonds.
SB 325, which would overturn the most recent school board election, has “retribution all over it,” said one concerned citizen. The bill would redraw districts, which were just redrawn in 2011, and change when school board members are elected, forcing some current members from their seats early. Senators Hunt and Barefoot sponsored the bill.
The chair of the League of Women Voters, Mary Martorella, explained to lawmakers that “SB 325 would change election district boundaries and the way school board members are elected. The League believes these actions defy principles of democracy.”
An advocate for fair elections, Anita Earls, also voiced her concern for the redistricting bill. “Current districts are not unconstitutional nor do they violate the Fair Voting Act. I believe SB 325, as written, is unconstitutional.
Two former Wake School Board members rose to speak of the partisan politics that dominate the school board today, noting that in the past politics were kept out of decisions affecting the education of Wake school children. Citizen John Reader said that SB 325 was simply a “power grab to put the GOP in control again. It is retribution for dismissing Tata,” referring to Tony Tata, the former superintendent of Wake County schools.
Two hours was not enough time to address the concerns of all who were in attendance. The next meeting of the Wake delegation will take place in two weeks.