Caldwell County Board of Education: Counties shouldn't own school property

Mar. 11, 2013 @ 10:02 PM

The Caldwell County Board of Education has taken its stand on a question being raised across the state: Who should own school property – school boards or county government?

The board passed a resolution Monday night opposing the transfer of school property ownership from local school boards to county commissioners. It’s an issue that hasn’t been raised by the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners – but that has been a matter of contentious debate in other parts of the state.

The Wake County Board of Commissioners brought up the issue with the N.C. General Assembly earlier this year. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners picked up on it and added school property transfers to its list of legislative goals for 2013-14.

Under current state law, school boards are given the tasks of building, maintaining and owning schools – but county commissioners share the responsibility for funding them.

The split between funding and ownership necessitates tedious “administrative work-arounds,” according to the NCACC’s legislative agenda.

The North Carolina School Boards Association balked at the idea of property transferring entirely to the county government. It drafted a resolution opposing it, and sent it to all 117 N.C. school districts.

That resolution – which states that “the powers of general control and supervision of school systems are to be vested in local boards of education, not county commissioners” – is the one adopted by the Caldwell school board last night.

More than anything, the Caldwell resolution is a show of solidarity.

“We can send a message to Raleigh that the current method of an elected school board works,” Superintendent Steve Stone said Monday.

The Caldwell County commissioners have not drafted any legislation favoring a shift in school property ownership. Several have said they have no interest in doing so, Stone said.

“The ones I’ve talked to, they have no interest in assuming our property, or our debt, or our funding sources to pay for property, or our maintenance departments,” he said.

LouAnne Kincaid, the public information officer for Caldwell County, said school ownership is not a priority for the county.

“It’s not one of the primary goals and I don’t think it’ll be one of the primary goals our commissioners will be working on,” she said.

The item about school property ownership is one of 58 yearly legislative goals listed by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, but it’s not listed in the organization’s top five goals.

But it has provoked a response from almost half of the state’s school districts. About 50 have adopted the resolution sent out by the School Boards Association, said Leanne Winner, the organization’s director of governmental relations.

It’s the association’s position that school boards are best equipped to make decisions about school property.

“The expertise has been with the school boards in the state and school boards across the country,” Winner said. “The site of the school, the design of the school is an integral part of the educational delivery system.”

In Wake County, the historically contentious relationship between the school board and the county commissioners has taken center stage in the school ownership debate.

In an interview with the News & Observer in Raleigh, Wake County school board chairman Keith Sutton called the proposed changes a “power grab” on the part of the Wake County commissioners.

Such sparring between the school board and the county government has not been a typical occurrence in Caldwell County, Stone said.

“We have a great relationship with our county commissioners,” he said. “This is in no way about them.”

That’s the case in several other counties that have adopted the resolution, including Watauga. But because both bodies are made up of elected officials, things can change quickly, Winner said.

“Even in jurisdictions where, currently, the school board and the county commission have a very good relationship, you’re potentially an election away from that changing,” she said.