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In a split vote, the Wilson County Board of Education opted to give a partial contribution to support the North Carolina School Boards Action Center and its lobbying efforts in the North Carolina legislature.
The board took up the matter at a special called meeting Friday.
On a motion by board member Velma Barnes, seconded by board member Beverly Boyette, the board agreed to make a $2,500 contribution to the action center, which is half of what the group had requested. Voting in support of the motion were board members Barnes, Boyette, Rhyan Breen and Chairwoman Christine Fitch, with board members Gary Farmer and Debora Powell voting against the motion. Board member Henry Mercer was not present at the meeting for medical reasons.
“NCSBAC is the arm of the association that provides support for advocacy for positions taken in regard to the legislative agenda of the association,” Fitch said. “Based upon the formula that was developed, the request for Wilson County is for a $5,000 contribution.”
Fitch said Wilson County had not made a contribution to the organization since the North Carolina School Boards Association formed its action center in 2013.
“I appreciate all of the work that they do, and they do a fantastic job. This money is coming straight out of the taxpayers’ pocket and honestly in my opinion, I just feel like they must do with what they have,” said Farmer. “As bad as we need the money here and the way things are, I just personally can’t see giving them $5,000.”
Powell agreed with Farmer.
Boyette came in with a different perspective.
“I have always voted not to contribute. Looking at them proposing this year to do away with the funding for the early colleges, though, was a shocker for me,” Boyette said. “They have the most As across the state. If we look at the different school settings and things that have been tried statewide, I believe that statistically, that one has been highly successful and to talk about cutting the one program that is working the best with out seniors, the possibility of that, I would really not like to see that happen. I don’t think we can afford $5,000, but I would like for us to give $2,000 or $2,500 and consider that.”
Fitch said there are 115 school districts across the state that are members of the association plus the Cherokee tribe.
Breen said this is one of those times where he lacks perspective.
“I have always been of the belief that the best proponent and the best advocates for the public school system are the people within the public school system. I don’t think there is any life that is not touched by the public school system,” Breen said.
Fitch said she has seen the action center’s work.
“They have worked hard on our behalf through the years as there have been some issues that have been raised with charter schools. They have stemmed effectively the campaign where there were going to be funds taken from the public schools and given more to the charters. They have worked tirelessly on our behalf and on other issues.” Fitch said. “I know you say that we benefit, that they do a good job, but you know it costs money to get things done.”
Fitch said that even if the board cannot contribute the full $5,000, Wilson County needs to be in the advocacy pot.
“Even though the formula says $5,000, I am sure they would be willing to take any contribution that we can give,” Fitch said. “I hear the rationale that the others of you are giving but I am of the belief that we do need to support this entity of our association.”
Farmer said he too was concerned about the possible funding cut for early colleges, calling them “shining stars.”
Farmer suggested that the board do its own lobbying with letters, phone calls and outreach to state lawmakers.
Powell said she appreciates what the action center does to advocate for the public schools.
“But at the same time, I am thinking that we need to keep the funds here and then down the road, maybe we can contribute to the organization,” Powell said.
“I just feel that what we are keeping here does not amount to what they are saving us if they can legislate for us,” Barnes said. “I believe it will be to our benefit to at least contribute a portion.”