02/02/11 — Bill filed to give authority to schools

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Bill filed to give authority to schools

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 2, 2011 1:46 PM

State Reps. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, have filed a bill in the state General Assembly that would give appointment powers back to the Wayne County Board of Education.

Stemming from the controversy that occurred last year when longtime board member Shirley Sims unexpectedly stepped down from the school board after she decided to move to Garner, the bill would bring Wayne County back in line with the rest of the state.

Currently, Wayne County is the only county in the state that gives the responsibility for filling vacant school board seats to its county commissioners -- the result of the merger agreement between the Wayne County and Goldsboro City school systems in 1991-92.

The appointment of Len Henderson to the board in 2010 was the second time the county Board of Commissioners had exercised that power. The first was in April 1997 when they named a replacement for Carl Maples following his resignation.

This time, though, local and state officials seemed to agree that it was time to return that authority back to the school board.

"I think they (the school board) have a better idea of who would make a good replacement than the commissioners, and especially since we're the only county in the state that has the commissioners doing it," Sager said. "You have a partisan board (commissioners) and a non-partisan board (school board), and the partisan board shouldn't be appointing members to the non-partisan board. And I think the general public agrees."

Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, also has signed onto the legislation, and traditionally if a county's representatives all agree, such local bills pass through with little opposition or discussion. Currently, the bill, which would allow the commissioners to make recommendations, but leave the appointment power up to the school board, has passed a first reading and been referred to the House Committee on Government.

Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said this morning that he had been notified about Sager's intent to introduce the bill into legislation.

"This process actually started last year," he said. "Sen. (Don) Davis had planned to introduce that, I think, in the long session had he been re-elected. Rep. Sager was also on board with supporting that change from the House side."

As far as the bill itself, Taylor said his understanding has been that Wayne County was the only district in the state in which the commission had the authority to appoint a replacement to a vacated school board seat.

He expressed appreciation to Sager for introducing legislation Taylor believes will be beneficial.

"Basically, it's putting us in line with the protocol across the state with the way non-partisan boards replace their members," he said.

-- Staff Writer Phyllis Moore contributed to this report.