Members of the Davie County Board of Education say they are keeping an eye on a proposed N.C. Senate bill that would give a county’s Board of Commissioners the right to take control of school properties.
Senate Bill 236, introduced earlier this month and sponsored by some of the most powerful legislators in the senate, comes as the school board and Superintendent Darrin Hartness prepare to ask Davie County commissioners for a bond referendum to finance a $53 million high school and $2.6 million in renovations to the old high school for a new central office.
But school board members and Hartness caution that it’s too early to say how the bill could impact the county and their efforts to replace the existing high school with a new one on Farmington Road. The board has not formally discussed the bill — its next meeting isn’t until April 9 — but Barbara Owens, the chairwoman of the school board, said it’s on everyone’s radar.
“We’ve got lots of questions,” she said. “We’re watching it (the bill) carefully and will talk with local legislators to see what this means.”
Sponsored by Sens. Neal Hunt, R-Wake; Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson; and Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, the bill would give county commissioners the authority to assume responsibility for the construction, maintenance and acquisition of school properties.
County commissioners could take over all or some school properties by passing a resolution.
The bill has its roots in the conflict between Wake County’s board of commissioners and school board. But now that legislation is working its way through the General Assembly, the implications could be far-reaching, affecting all 115 school districts.
The bill passed on its first reading and is now being discussed at the committee level. If the Senate passes the bill, it would move on to the House.
In North Carolina, the commissioners make money available for school projects that are proposed and managed by school systems.
That’s an arrangement that strikes Robert Wisecarver as unfair.
“As long as there are monies owed on the school, the school is in the county’s name, and when they’re paid off then it reverts to the school board. I sort of disagree with that,” said Wisecarver, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Davie County. We carry the liability on our books then turn the asset over to the school board? I have a problem with that.”
Giving county commissioners the right to take control of school property was one of the legislative goals of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners when it met earlier this year. The association acts on behalf of commissioners from all 100 counties across the state.
Wisecarver was one of 52 commissioners who voted in favor of making that one of the association’s legislative goals. In March, Davie commissioners approved a resolution in support of those goals, with Wisecarver, Carl Humphrey and Mark Jones voting for it, and Terry Renegar and Richard Poindexter voting against it.
Before casting his vote, Renegar made a point of saying he disagreed with giving commissioners the power to take control of schools.
“The wisdom behind that is to have checks and balances,” Renegar said. “I can’t go along with that.”
School board member Paul Drechsler said he suspects some county boards would want to have the authority to take control of school properties and others may not be interested.
“I don’t know exactly where I stand right now, but it seems to me, the smart thing is for the elected school board members to be in charge of school properties like it’s always been,” he said. “Does it work in Davie? Yes. I might change my mind down the road, but as far as I can tell, the past school boards have done that piece and done that job.”
Last week, the Forsyth County school board passed a resolution opposing the proposed bill. Owens said the Davie school board will discuss a resolution at its April 9 meeting.
For his part, Hartness said he doesn’t see any positives coming from this bill.
“I feel that school boards and the staffs that school boards employ are best equipped to determine the needs of the school,” he said. “That’s there role and responsibility.”