07/28/10 — Schools may get power to pick members

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Schools may get power to pick members

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 28, 2010 1:46 PM

Former Wayne County commissioner and now state Rep. Efton Sager said Tuesday he will introduce legislation next year that would return the county school board's authority to fill its own vacancies.

Currently, the commissioners have that power.

Sager, a Republican from Wayne, said that based on his conversations with other members of the area legislative delegation he feels they would support such a bill.

Wayne County is the only county in the state in which commissioners fill vacant school board seats such as it did last week -- an arrangement that is a holdover from negotiations that years ago paved the way for the merger of the Goldsboro and county school systems.

"I do believe that the Wayne County (legislative) delegation will be united in making the change by introducing legislation early in the next legislative session to correct this problem," Sager said.

The next session will begin Jan. 26 and Sager and Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, said the legislation would be introduced.

State Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, and Reps. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, and Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, all of whom represent parts of Wayne, could not be reached for comment prior to press time today.

Local schools officials approached Sager about introducing such legislation prior to the recent short session. Controversial bills are not considered during the short session, he said. It is designed chiefly to deal with the state budget.

Davis said he is committed to filing the bill next session.

"I feel it is long-time overdue," he said.

Sager said he is not trying to take legitimate power away from the commissioners, but said that he believes the school board deserves the right to appoint people to fill its own vacancies since it also is a board elected by the people.

He noted the school board argument that its members are elected non-partisan while commissioners are partisan. As such, the school board would be less inclined to take party affiliation into consideration when making an appointment, he said.

Sager said he agreed with the assessment, adding that during his eight years on the county commission board he knew that a Republican would not be elected vice chairman, much less chairman, since the majority was Democrat.

Davis, a Democrat, agreed that the argument makes sense and that the fundamental issue is a partisan board making an appointment to a non-partisan body.

Vacancies on partisan boards, such as Wayne County commissioners, are filled by the political party to which the departing member belongs.

Commission Chairman Jack Best has said he thinks commissioners are in a better position to make the choice for the school board.

Sager disagreed.

"I think Jack is entitled to his opinion, but I disagree with him. I think the opinion of the general public is that they would like it changed.

"Even though I know that there are very strong opinions on both sides of the issue, and I do respect the right of people to strongly disagree, I have weighed the pros and cons of this issue and have decided that it is time for Wayne County to select its vacancies on the school board the same way that other counties in North Carolina do, that is by the school board."

Sager said he had nothing critical to say about the selection committee that made recommendations to commissioners to consider for the vacancy left by departing school board member Shirley Sims.

Commissioners last Friday by a 5-2 vote appointed Len Henderson of Dudley to complete the remaining two years of the unexpired term.

Ms. Sims, who has moved to Garner, stepped down at the end of June.