Two education bills meet different fates in General Assembly
One bill, with ramifications for the Lee County Board of Education and the Lee County Board of Commissioners, progressed in the General Assembly Thursday, while another dealing with school facilities hit a stumbling block.
House Bill 512, a local bill proposed by Rep. Mike Stone regarding how trustees to Central Carolina Community College are appointed, passed out of committee in the Senate.
But the bill was amended in that committee. Instead of giving the Lee County Commissioners eight appointees to the 16-member board as Stone's original version proposed, the Senate version of the bill still takes the four seats from the Lee County Board of Education but mandates the school board to work with the school boards in Harnett and Chatham counties to jointly come up with four appointees. Lee, Harnett and Chatham counties all have a say as to the board's makeup because it has campuses in each county.
The bill also forces all current Lee County school board appointees off of the board and makes them ineligible for immediate re-election. Those four are Chet Mann, Jan Hayes, Tony Lett and Norman "Chip" Post Jr., who was only appointed to the board a month ago, to fill the spot of Ophelia Livingston, whose term expires this month.
Julian Philpott, chairman of the board of trustees, said he's confident the board will still be able to perform its duties well, but it's not necessarily the decision he would've made.
"I can't speak to exactly why this wording was put in there," he said. "I would hope that [the bill] would've allowed their terms to expire before they went to the new appointment system, but that's up to the General Assembly. ... Also, I want to stress that Chet and Jan and Tony have been outstanding ambassadors."
The other bill in question, Senate Bill 236, continued on its rocky path to try to move control of school property from school boards to county commissioners. The bill began as a statewide proposal but was changed to a local bill affecting only a handful of counties after initial opposition. Local Sen. Ronald Rabin added Harnett and Lee counties to the list that includes six other counties.
Generally, as was the case in Lee County, school boards have opposed the bill, but county commissioners have welcomed it. However, all the controversy might be moot soon because the bill was rejected by a House committee Thursday.
The committee removed Wake County from the bill — although it was proposed by a Republican from Wake County — and gave the proposal as a whole a negative review, with WRAL-TV reporting that one committee member, Onslow Republican George Cleveland, said local boards of education and commissioners simply need to learn to get along better.
Relations between the two Lee County boards in question haven't always been rosy, and their contention continued after the bill's most recent setback.
"People see this as a power play, but it's about saving taxpayers' dollars," Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Parks said, adding that he hopes to see the bill get a second wind next week. "... We can show evidence that a lot of it is a waste of money, and that's the reason we are trying to change it."
But Dr. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said his board is already saving money and doesn't need the county interfering.
"I feel like we're doing a great job looking after taxpayers' money, and I'm glad the committee rejected the bill," he said. Smith noted that the district's last three large construction projects finished ahead of schedule and within budget.
Parks, though, said that's not accurate.
"It was over a period of time when building material costs went down after the contract was awarded," Parks said. "They were able to save money, but it was not the school board saving. It was because of mis-bidding."
Tamara Brogan, the school board's legislative liaison, said she was there when the bill was rejected and was excited.
"School buildings are part of the educational process," she said. "The environment our children are learning in is very important, and our buildings are part of that puzzle. ... Board of education members are elected to look after the entire education system of the county, and we're taking on that responsibility."