Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
Position Statement Regarding Legislation Impacting Wake County Public School System
Recently, legislation potentially affecting Wake County Public Schools (S236) has been introduced at the General Assembly. The Chamber, a long-time and ardent supporter of public education and the Wake County Public School System, believes this proposal is important for the community to consider as it seeks to maintain and grow a quality school system. We believe this could be an opportunity for our county to engage in a fresh conversation around a lingering challenge.
The method of governance of our school system gives the Board of Education the responsibility for running the schools and the Board of Commissioners for funding the schools. This division of responsibility and authority is a rare division of power. In fact, over 90% of school districts in America have fiscal independence. The fiscal dependency of the Wake Board of Education on the Wake Board of Commissioners creates inherent tension over which elected board has a better understanding of voter interests as it relates to the classroom needs and investment required. This condition frequently results in conflict and gridlock. A county whose future economic success is directly linked to excellent public education, needs to find improved ways of establishing school priorities.
Conflict between the two boards is not new. In fact, in 2008, after watching years of unproductive interaction, the Chamber and the Wake Education Partnership proposed an inter-local agreement between the two boards to better align responsibilities and authority to increase focus on student achievement, and minimize inter-board tensions. We proposed that the Board of Education should receive a multi-year predictable funding formula from the County to accommodate educating our growing student populations, address achievement gaps and accommodate inflation; and that the Board of Commissioners should assume the responsibility for owning, building and constructing schools. We believe now, as we did then, that better alignment of authority and responsibility would deliver more focused governance and better relations between the boards. Unfortunately, the two bodies did not come to an agreement then, and the relationship between the two boards has remained contentious.
The current proposal in the legislature addresses only part of this ongoing conflict between the two bodies. Senate Bill 236, would give the Wake County Board of Commissioners the option of assuming from the Board of Education the responsibility of construction, ownership, and acquisition of public school property. From our perspective, aligning the responsibility for school construction and ownership with the people who have authority to fund those schools is consistent with our previous position. While concern has been expressed regarding the County’s commitment to quality school construction, there is no reason to believe that Wake County government is not fundamentally capable of executing this assignment successfully. The newly constructed Courthouse and numerous county libraries are good examples of their capabilities.
We withhold support on Senate Bill 236 until the Wake County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education commit to creating an inter-local agreement addressing these issues. The legislation as proposed will not settle the tension that exists between the two boards, nor will it alone provide for the gains in efficiency and effectiveness that the community would expect in such a major change in doing business. The Chamber supports and encourages the two boards to enter into an inter-local agreement that would align traditional school construction, ownership, and acquisition of public school property with the Wake County Commissioners. The authority to site where schools shall be constructed, select school design and maintain school buildings should remain the responsibility of the Board of Education. Additionally, the Board of Education should receive a multi-year, predictable, and increasing funding stream providing the resources necessary to handle growth and advance student achievement.
This agreement would improve the relationship between the two boards, increase efficiency and effectiveness, and, in turn, yield better service to the children and citizens of Wake County. This is an opportunity for Wake County to place clear emphasis on student achievement, decrease the distraction of the two boards, and advance the community as a whole.
The second legislative proposal, Senate Bill 325, would change the way in which the Board of Education is elected, moving from nine members elected from individual districts to seven members elected from individual districts and two members elected from districts representing half the county.
To fully represent the interests of Wake County citizens, the Chamber feels that the Wake County Board of Education needs both a county-wide and localized perspective. So, although we are open to the concept of a change in the manner of electing members of the Board of Education, we believe any such change should only occur after vigorous public discussion, a fair hearing on the issues, and opportunity for public comment.
While the Chamber believes there is merit in considering revisions to the manner in which members of the Board of Education are elected, we do not support SB 325 and encourage the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education to engage a citizen stakeholder committee to review different election models and make a recommendation to the two boards. Thereafter, the two boards should jointly request the legislature for any changes determined to be appropriate.
It is our belief that these positions fall within the mission of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce to sustain and further develop a thriving economy, and to enhance our community's quality of life.