State bill would let counties take control of school property
SALISBURY — A bill proposed in the N.C. Senate would give certain counties, including Rowan, the authority to take ownership of school buildings.
The bill would allow county commissioners to pass a resolution to take responsibility for any “construction, improvement, ownership or acquisition” of school property. They will be given the option to leave the school board in charge of equipment, maintenance and repair.
As of Tuesday, the bill would apply to all counties in the state.
But N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock said that a local version of the bill will be presented in committee this morning. It would apply to just 12 counties.
Brock, a Republican, said Tuesday that the bill is being converted to a local bill now because “there were counties that didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Brock is not listed as a sponsor of the bill. But he said he added the counties he represents — Davie, Rowan and Iredell — because people in his district were asking for the legislation.
The main benefit to the bill is cost savings for taxpayers, he said.
“The more buildings (the counties) have, the better it is for their bonding rate,” he said. “They can actually borrow money at a lower rate than they could without it.”
In addition, school systems pay sales tax on their capital expenses, and counties don’t, Brock said.
For the school system’s most recent bond referendum, it let the county borrow money and pay the bills, said Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operation.
When the school system itself pays for construction or repairs, Miller said, it does pay sales taxes up front. But it can file with the state to be reimbursed for those taxes at the end of the year.
Brock acknowledged that some counties will construct buildings and then deed them over to the school system, but he said that can be a complicated process.
“Would you rather have the school board worrying about the inside of the classroom — the students and the curriculum — or worrying about roofs?” Brock said.
Brock stressed that the bill only gives counties the option to own school property. It won’t happen, he said, unless the local county commissioners vote to take that option.
Jim Sides, Chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, did not return calls from the Post Tuesday asking if Rowan County would take that option.
Miller said there are other complications of the bill to consider, too, like who would make day-to-day maintenance decisions.
“Will maintenance employees become employees of the county?” Miller said. “They have not thought this through. It’s a terrible piece of legislation.”
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education has passed a resolution opposing the bill.
The board also agreed during a special meeting Monday to send a letter voicing its opposition to the local legislative delegation.
“If this is such a good solution, why is it only appropriate for 12 counties versus all counties?” said Board Member Susan Cox.
Board Member Josh Wagner asked the same question, and he said he wants to know why this bill is being proposed now, without much local dialog.
“This is changing history, in terms of the responsibilities of the school board, which is something I don’t take lightly,” Wagner said. “I haven’t really been given a lot of good information on why it needs to be done.”
Chuck Hughes was the only school board member who did not vote to oppose the bill Monday.
“I think if the county commissioners own (school buildings), they take responsibility for that funding, and they also take responsibility when things aren’t done,” Hughes said. “That way, you don’t have one board pointing to another board.”
He said that would leave the school board free to deal with issues that are more directly related to education. He said the central office building is an example of a “satellite issue” that would be resolved if the county had control over capital projects and funding.
Board Member Jean Kennedy said the bill could cause problems with building maintenance and supervision.
“Who is going to pay the people who would normally be there to open up those facilities?” Kennedy said. “Just giving them control is not as simple as it appears.”
Kay Wright Norman suggested that the board look beyond the surface and consider the county’s history.
“If we look at what the county has authority over now, because we don’t have enough money and we’re not willing to raise taxes, certain things are not being done,” Norman said. “Library hours are shorter than they have ever been.”
She said she thinks the deeper issue is the desire by some to do away with school boards and even with the public school system.
The bill was initially requested by Wake County, where the commissioners and school board have been fighting for years over ownership of school property.
The local version would apply to Alexander, Beaufort, Davie, Guilford, Harnett, Iredell, Lee, Rockingham, Rowan, Wake, Wayne and Yadkin counties.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.