Letter: Keep school construction with school board

January 31, 2014 

I was surprised to see the article on the front page of the Eastern Wake News reporting that one of our state representatives is still advocating for the transfer of school construction and property to the county commissioners. Without going into all of the details again, let me make the following points:

•  The sharing of responsibilities for designing, building, funding and maintaining schools in North Carolina represents a “checks and balances” system that serves the public well. School boards are responsible for providing adequate information, establishing the needs to convince the county commissioners to provide funding either through a “pay as you go” plan or presenting a bond to the general public for their vote of support.

•  There was a bill introduced last year to change this in every county in the state. Most counties quickly asked that they not be included and finally all that was left was a local bill to do this only in Wake County. That bill also was unable to pass. This speaks volumes about how many people consider this to be the wrong way to go. This seemed to have not been a concern four years ago when the commissioners and board of education were both controlled by Republicans.

•  Voters in Wake County, knowing that the system of checks and balances was staying in place, overwhelmingly passed a huge bond issue on October 8. This was confirmation that a large majority of taxpayers understood the need in Wake and had confidence that the two boards could work together. Let me emphasize that although the bond passed, that funding source stays with the county commissioners. Not one dime can be spent until the county commissioners review specific requests from the board of education and releases money for that specific project. That is how “checks and balances” work to provide the most suitable schools at the best costs for our citizens.

•  The Wake County Commissioners and the Wake County Board of Education are negotiating in good faith to complete a final interlocal agreement. The agreement will put into effect a way for staffs from the two organizations to work closely in a true spirit of collaboration to design, bid, construct and maintain schools in Wake County. The agreement will recognize the degree of collaboration that has been happening and offer further enhancements so that both boards are made fully aware throughout the process of getting the needed schools built and renovated.

•  Through the use of this system of checks and balances, there were savings of $104 million on the last bond from 2006.

•  The county has maintained its AAA rating and all indications are that will continue through this bond period. The raters fully understand the systems of taxing and owning assets in North Carolina.

•  The school system currently manages over three times the building and property assets than county government. We think there is ample evidence that when all things are considered, those assets have been managed well under the current system.

•  No business model, plan or study has been completed to show that there are costs savings by turning the control of buildings, property, construction, and maintenance over to the county. In fact, if this does occur, the system of checks and balances disappears.

It is time we put this on-going debate to rest in Wake County, just as all other counties have done. This will allow both boards to have a process in place that provides adequate schools to the best of our ability as a county.

Tom Benton

Zebulon

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Wake County Board of Education representing the eastern part of Wake County. The length limit was waived to allow a fuller response to the news story.

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