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School Board Opposes Property Transfer Legislation – Unlike Wake Co., Issue “Not on Radar” of Commissioners

WCSBy Jesse Wood

Feb. 12, 2013. In wake of a recent “power grab” occurring in Wake County, the Watauga County Board of Education adopted a resolution that opposes legislation that would transfer school properties from local school boards to county commissions.

The decision was unanimous – with no discussion from school board members.

A portion of the resolution reads, “The Watauga Board of Education … opposes any proposed legislation that would authorize counties to assume control of school property and respectfully requests that the North Carolina General Assembly oppose any such legislation during its 2013 session.”

The resolution was drafted by the N.C. School Boards Association and sent to all 115 local education agencies (LEAs) for adoption. The resolutions will then be bundled and used to stymie “the local bill that Wake County introduced and any subsequent efforts” to move the legislation beyond Wake County and across the state, according to Supt. David Kafitz.

In response to Wake County commissioners wanting to change state law to allow counties to acquire, own and construct traditionwatauga county 1al public school sites and facilities, the N.C. Association of County Commissioners – at a conference in January – made this a legislative goal to adopt in 2013-14.

Todd McGee, communications director for the NCACC, noted that this proposal would give county commissions an option to take over control and ownership of school property.

“Again, it’s important to know that this is just an option for counties,” McGee said. “It’s not a mandate, just an option.”

A long-winded description of this goal in a NCACC packet reads: “N.C. counties are statutorily responsible for funding the construction, renovation, and maintenance of all school facilities, but schools retain title and ownership of school facilities. This divergence of funding versus ownership requires administrative work-arounds to obtain sales tax refunds on school construction materials and results in an imbalance of liabilities to assets, as county-issued school debt shows as a liability on the county’s financial statement, while the building increases the LEA’s assets.”

Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller agreed that the “work-arounds” are a hassle and make for a more difficult process when constructing or renovating a school building.

“But it’s not impossible,” Miller said, adding that he doesn’t foresee the battle in Wake County to occur in Watauga.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners hasn’t addressed the issue – and likely won’t. Miller said he wasn’t aware of another commissioner that was concerned in addressing the matter.

“It’s not on our radar,” Miller said. “We have a good relationship with our school board and have for many, many years. In Wake County, I don’t think the commissioners and school board generally get along from what I’ve seen in the paper.”

County Finance Director Margaret Pierce said the county owns two schools in Watauga – Watauga High School and Mabel Elementary School – because of lender requirements on outstanding loans. Currently, a loan exists for the renovation of Mabel’s roof, and the construction loan on the Watauga High School has a life of about 16 more years. Once those loans are paid off, the county will transfer the titles over to Watauga County Schools. 

The resolution adopted by the school board last night prescribed that “public school placement, design, and maintenance are integral components of the control and supervision authority that local boards of education have been statutorily assigned.”

The next line of the resolution reads that “to maximize efficiency and maintain supervisory powers, local boards of education must continue to control basic powers of school property ownership.”

When introducing the topic of the resolution at the school board meeting, Supt. Kafitz said, “I’ll leave that for you to consider and act on as a school board.”

But he did add: “This is a significant transfer of authority from the school board back to the county commissioners.”