Archived Story

Bill allows counties to own, build schools

Published 2:24am Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Legislation in the N.C. General Assembly, if it becomes law, could take away all or some of the Beaufort County Board of Education’s ability to own and build schools.

Senate Bill 236, approved by the state Senate last week, is now with the state House of Representatives. After its first reading in the House on Monday, the bill passed. It was referred to the House’s Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House. The bill awaits final action by the House.

If it becomes law, school systems across the state could lose control of building new schools and ownership of existing schools. The bill allows boards of commissioners to take ownership of existing schools and assume the responsibility of building new schools. In essence, the bill would let boards of commissioners take over all segments of school construction, including choosing where new schools would be built. Boards of commissioners would be in charge of maintaining schools and renovating them, responsibilities now in the hands of school boards.

“This section applies only in a county that elects by resolution to assume responsibility for some or all of owning, siting, acquiring, constructing, equipping, expanding, improving, repairing, and renovating property for use by a named school administrative unit located wholly within the county but only to the extent and under the terms and conditions specified in the board of county commissioners’ resolution,” reads the third edition of the bill.

State Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican from Beaufort County, said Tuesday afternoon he supports the bill.

“When the bill came up, we called around to all the county commissions and asked them if they wanted to be on that bill. Beaufort and Dare counties both said yes. So, they were included,” Cook said.

Robert Belcher, a Beaufort County commissioner and a former chairman of the school board, does not like the bill. He has concerns with the bill, if it becomes law, especially if it applies to just a few of the state’s 100 counties.

“Why do you put nine counties in it and leave 91 counties out if it’s such a great thing,” Belcher said Monday evening. “I don’t think the county commissioners are equipped to take over the role of maintenance and the building of schools. The school boards have being doing it for years. They’ve done it for years. They know how to do it. Why stop doing it that way? I don’t get it.”

Belcher said as far as he knows, no one from Beaufort County asked for the county to be included in the bill. Belcher said he fielded several inquiries about the bill Monday.

Beaufort County Manager Randell Woodruff, replying to an email sent to him, wrote, “Yes, several of the commissioners are interested in having Beaufort County on this bill, although I believe now it has been changed to be applicable to all counties. This issue was made a priority by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners during its legislative goals process earlier this year in which our board participated. Basically, the commissioners are pleased now with the work and the direction in which the Board of Education and Dr. Phipps are moving. I don’t believe the BOC has interest at the present time of implementing the options contained within SB236, but only want to have these available in the future should they be determined to be beneficial to the county. Therefore, I don’t believe anything different will happen in Beaufort County should the bill be passed as it relates to the operational relationship between the schools and the Board of Commissioners.”

The latest version of the bill, according to a spokeswoman in the bill-status division of the General Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, contains language making the bill, if it becomes law, applicable to just nine counties. They are Beaufort, Dare, Davie, Guilford, Harnett, Lee, Rockingham, Rowan and Wake counties.

Beaufort County commissioners were scheduled to meet the area legislators in Raleigh on Tuesday evening. Belcher said he planned to discuss the bill with them during that meeting.

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