The struggle for control over school construction and repairs continues between the Wake County Commissioners and the Wake County School Board.
At their regular meeting on Monday, Commissioners approved an interlocal agreement requesting Wake County School Board cooperation on construction projects. Yet school board members said they had no input on the agreement and have not seen a copy of it.
Board member Kevin Hill said they are “aware” of the document, but member Jim Martin said they only received word about it the Friday before the Monday Commission meeting.
“There has not yet been any discussion about this between the two Boards,” Martin said. “Anything like this needs due diligence and hard work before it is rolled out. It is unfortunate that at this time the Commissioners are pushing such unilateral action.”
In the agreement, Commissioners ask that the school board change its qualifications for construction companies to bid on projects.
The agreement passed 4 to 3 along party lines. Democrats Caroline Sullivan, Betty Lou Ward and James West voted against.
“An interlocal agreement must have some ‘agreement’ in it,” Sullivan said. “I’m uncomfortable approving this agreement because it seems unilateral.”
Earlier this year, Commission members tried to take control of school construction projects through a bill at the state legislature. The bill did not pass.
But a new law this year approved by the General Assembly changes the open bidding process to increase competition for the construction services associated with public
Commissioner Tony Gurley said the agreement complies with the current state laws and is aimed at improving the school board’s bidding process for construction projects. Wake County voters recently approved an $810 million school construction bond. Gurley said having two boards working together would ensure better use of those taxpayer dollars.
“This is not asking for any new legislative authority,” he said. “This is simply a request to engage the school system under current legislative authority to allow the County Commissioners to cooperate with this program. Our responsibility to the taxpayer is to get the most value from their money.”
Under the agreement, “the school board shall give due consideration to requesting the county by resolution to assume responsibility for some or all of the owning, siting, acquiring, constructing, equipping, expanding, improving, repairing, and renovating the property.”
In turn, Gurley said the county would limit participation to requests from the school board.
Ward and Sullivan asked to table the agreement, but Commissioner Paul Coble disagreed.
“I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting three or four months to look at this and we’re not driving the timeline, the school board is,” said Coble. “They put out an RFP on Nov. 8 for four or five new schools to be done in a particular process and, frankly, as one of the speakers earlier today pointed out, it does not follow the spirit of the [state] law.”
Commissioners are asking that the school board vote on the interlocal agreement at its Dec. 17 meeting and certify that they are in compliance with current construction bidding laws. The Wake County School board agenda for Dec. 17 has not yet been released.
School board member Susan Evans said she does not know whether the item will be put on an upcoming agenda.
“We have not had any formal discussions about this as a Board, as we have not met since the County Commissioners revealed this proposed agreement. I have yet to see a copy of the actual document,” she said. “The Superintendent along with the Board Chairman and our Board attorneys are gathering information on this and will be responsible for deciding whether or when this item comes before the Board.”
Career and Technical High School Updates
Wake County’s new career and technical high school will be named the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy.
Wake County Public Schools will partner with Wake Tech Community College to create the academy, which will give graduates a high school diploma and career training.
Vernon Malone worked in education for 34 years, serving as a teacher, superintendent and board member. He died in 2009.
Learn more: Wake County Naming Policy
In addition to approving the name, Commissioners approved a motion to lease the Coca-Cola building to the Wake County Public School System for the academy. The building is at 2200 S. Wilmington St. in Raleigh, and the lease will be for 20 years with another 10 years on a conditional basis.
Both motions were approved unanimously. The academy is expected to open August 2014.