Commissioners back vouchers: They split with school board on suit

Feb. 03, 2014 @ 09:37 PM

After a passionate, hour-long discussion concerning the Lee County Board of Education’s support of the North Carolina School Board Association’s voucher lawsuit against the state, Lee County Commissioners voted along party lines to “expressly disagree” with the local school board and offer a “sincere apology” to the General Assembly Monday.

Commissioners Andre Knecht, Kirk Smith, Charlie Parks and Jim Womack voted in favor of the resolution stating the commission’s disproval of the lawsuit and the school board’s support of said lawsuit during the Lee County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night. Commissioners Amy Dalrymple, Ricky Frazier and Robert Reives voted against.

It was uncalled for the commissioners to take this action against the school board, Reives said, adding the language in the bill was too harsh.

“This is very harsh,” he said. “Unnecessarily harsh. And quite offensive, to be frank.”

Womack, who submitted the resolution during the last commissioner’s meeting, said he requested feedback on the language and received zero input.

“Who is the school board, or the state or the department of public instruction think they are — smarter than parents about who is best to educate their children?” Womack said. “That is my key point here. Who says that the parents aren’t smart enough, if they are empowered, that they are not smart enough to determine where their children can get a quality education?”

In the commissioners’ approved resolution, it states that:

  • The commissioners expressly disagree with the Lee County Board of Education’s decision to support the NCSBA lawsuit.
  • The commissioners support the North Carolina General Assembly in implementing the voucher system.
  • That “this and other similar actions will compel Lee County Commissioners to exercise even closer scrutiny to the Lee County School Board’s budget for the upcoming school year.”
  • The commissioners wish to express their “sincere apology for this specious action by the Lee County School Board and pray this action does not reflect poorly on Lee County or its taxpayers” to the General Assembly.
  • A copy of this resolution be sent to various leaders within the General Assembly.

The lawsuit alleges the state’s voucher program is unconstitutional because it takes money from the constitutionally mandated public education system to fund private schools.

After receiving numerous calls and speaking to school board leaders, Dalrymple said she couldn’t support this resolution because the guidelines to determine which low-income children will receive vouchers has not be set and other potential problems have not been addressed.

Citing various documents, Dalrymple said there was only a one-page form for a private school to fill out to be approved by the state. And a private school only had to follow 13 state rules.

“There are a lot of questions that members of boards of education across the state have some serious concerns about,” she said. “This is just a political issue. These are children’s lives. Bottom line. And you do not, in my world, play politics with children’s lives.”

Womack countered by saying the local school board’s decision to enter a lawsuit was political, and that the state rules did not take into account the amount of work private schools must undertake to be considered accredited by various organizations.

After the vote, Dalrymple asked the tally of the vote and how commissioners voted be sent to the General Assembly with the resolution.  No one from the local school board was present during the meeting. The school board and board of commissioners will have a joint meeting Thursday.

In other matters, Commissioners:

• Considered a presentation from Lee County Parks and Recreation Director John Payne about the history and possible future of the O.T. Sloan Park. One possibility, he said, was creating a 21st century sports complex through a combined effort of the county, private investors and the city of Sanford.

• Heard comments from Dalrymple about an “ethics issue” concerning a county commissioner who used a “derogatory term” toward a private citizen in the comments section of a Sanford Herald online article. After the meeting, Dalrymple said she was informed that Womack told Jay Calendine he could join a list of “full-throated, whiney libtards” in the online comments of a Sanford Herald letter to the editor. The comment has since been edited to “moonbats.” Womack said if the online comments of a few is the focus of the public, then they are missing the essence of county government and important work currently being done.