NC House committee rejects bill to give county boards control of school buildings, but ...

SALISBURY — A bill that would give county commissioners control of school construction and ownership of school buildings was voted down in a state legislative committee Thursday.

But supporters of the bill pulled a maneuver later in the day that gives the proposed legislation a second chance.

First, the House Government Committee voted against giving the legislation a favorable report after hearing testimony Thursday morning. Rowan County was among a handful of the state’s 100 counties included in the bill.

Rep. Harry Warren of Salisbury is a co-chairman of the committee and conducted the meeting. Rep. Carl Ford of China Grove is a member.

Then on Thursday evening, the House voted to refer the bill to a different committee — the House Rules Committee — to keep it alive this year, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh.

Neither Warren nor Ford could be reached for comment.

Rowan County Commissioners Chairman Jim Sides said he would withhold comment on the vote until the matter comes to a conclusion.

Following his remark, Sides said simply, “I support SB236.”

School Board Chairman Richard Miller said the bill would disrupt the system of checks and balances between school boards and county commissioners.

“I have long been a supporter of continuing to have separation of powers to have good government,” Miller said. “I’m pleased to hear the House committee decided not to move forward, but until the legislature turns, it could still come up in another form.”

Speakers in favor of the bill Thursday morning included a number of county commissioners from Wake County, where the idea has had strong backing.

Wake Commissioner Tony Gurley argued that taxpayers “want more efficient governing of the construction process” and that polling shows they believe commissioners are better able to build schools at lower cost.

Several speakers pointed to an instance several years ago in which the Wake school board wanted to pay $8 million for a proposed school site without getting an appraisal. Once the county got an appraisal, it bought the land for $4 million.

But other speakers said their county and school boards work well together and they saw no need to take authority from one board and give it to another.

“I think it’s a power grab,” Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow County told the committee. “We have enough strife between school boards and county commissioners. … These elected boards have defined responsibilities and they should learn how to work together.”

At the end of testimony, Warren called for a voice vote and ruled that those against the bill had more votes. He started to ask the two factions to stand, but was reminded by another committee member that he had already determined the bill had failed.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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