New bill may allow for division of school districts

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- House Bill 704 has the possibility to turn the state's largest school district, Wake County Public School System, into one that is much smaller.

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The bill, which was passed last year, gives a committee of lawmakers the ability to look at the "feasibility and advisability of enacting legislation to permit local school administrative units that were merged from separate units to be divided into 17 separate local school administrative units once again."

In other words, a group of partisan lawmakers will decide on how to divide schools and what the division would look like.

"We don't know what information is going to be presented to us on Wednesday," said Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake. "We have no idea what the expectation is of the committee."

The group, which meets for the first time next Wednesday, will also discuss whether the division of schools will be up to the voters. In addition, the committee plans to determine whether voters would decide on school district division by way of a simple majority or if a required percentage would be needed by vote.

Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, Watauga, serves two counties and each county only has one school district. He told ABC11 that school division isn't an issue that has come up with his constituents. In addition, as a rank-and file-member, he is also curious about what's to come.

"I don't know what type of information is going to be presented to us," he said. "So at this point, I haven't thought about it."

RELATED: Read HB704 here (.pdf)

While Gill understands this bill just allows lawmakers to study what school division looks like, the outcome once it reaches the floor carries undesirable outcomes.

"It may even lead to the haves and have-nots," Gill said. "You're going to have sections of counties that are in poverty. And low-income, struggling kids are all going to go to the same school."

"Whatever comes out of that committee will simply be a proposal," Jordan noted. "I don't even know if will be proposed legislation or a bill."

The bill's sponsors, Rep. William Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, and Sen. David L. Curtis, R-Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Wake County Commissioner John Burns sent a statement to ABC11 that reads:

"This study committee is being assembled to study a bad idea. Dissolution of the Wake County Public School System into smaller systems would raise taxes, cement social and economic inequities, reduce performance, and result in worse outcomes. We have an excellent school system in Wake County. Through it, we all support all of our children. If the state wants to investigate ways to improve that system, they could increase state funding, pay our teachers more, and reduce the burden of standardized testing."

A representative from WCPSS says the district is not commenting on the matter.
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