Council considers asking state for elected school board

PLAYING THE GAME: Asheville City Council needs to decide if it wants to pursue state legislation to change the composition of the Asheville City Schools Board of Education from an appointed body to an elected board. From left, current Board of Education members Joyce Brown, board Chair Shaunda Sandford, Patricia Griffin, Vice Chair Martha Geitner and James Carter pose for a group picture. Photo courtesy of Asheville City Schools

If Asheville City Council wants to bring any legislation before the state General Assembly this year — including the creation of an elected board for Asheville City Schools or changes to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s room tax allocation — its members need to make those decisions in the next few weeks. 

The topic of an elected school board has been controversial for years, Mayor Esther Manheimer told Council at its Jan. 26 meeting. Members had previously floated the idea on Jan. 12 as they discussed the impending appointment of members to three open board seats.

“I’m just a little panicked because our time is so short,” Manheimer said. “The burning question is that of the school board. We need to make a decision sooner rather than later.” 

The district is one of only two in North Carolina to have an appointed school board. Under the current system, which is set by state law, Council members appoint applicants to a four-year term; the process can include screening questions, essays and interviews. The next round of appointments is legally required to be made by Thursday, April 1.

According to the NCGA, all local bills moving through the House must be submitted to drafting by Wednesday, March 3. Bills moving through the Senate must be requested by Thursday, Feb. 25

In past years, Council has worked with Buncombe County’s state representatives and senators  to craft an agenda for each legislative session, Manheimer explained during a portion of the meeting designated to discuss legislative priorities. Political differences between the left-leaning Council and the Republican-controlled General Assembly have created a “rocky relationship” in recent cycles, she said, adding that the dynamic has recently changed from fending off “terrible legislation” to asking for legislation in “calmer waters.” 

Antanette Mosley opposed the school board change, saying that before Council takes any steps, she would like to find out what the original stated purpose was for instituting an appointed body. She said she’d recently spoken with an unspecified “expert in the field” who warned that changing the board without first knowing its background would have no bearing on the school system’s worst-in-state racial achievement gap

“I’ve received several calls from organized groups and individuals in the Black community who are outraged that this is under consideration,” said Mosley, who is Black. “They really see it as a political power play designed to get Black voices out of the public schools.”

Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith and Sage Turner both expressed support for having preliminary discussions with the community before switching to an elected board. “Any other route would be very irresponsible,” Smith said.  

A joint meeting among Council, the school board and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to discuss the proposal is being scheduled for the near future, but a date had not been set as of press time. In the interim, Council is planning to proceed with the board appointments. At its meeting of Tuesday, Feb. 9, Council will need to decide on a screening process for screening applicants; final appointments are tentatively scheduled for Council’s meeting of Tuesday, March 23.

Manheimer also brought up a proposed reallocation of the county’s occupancy tax funds, which she and Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman had been poised to jointly advocate during last year’s legislative cycle. The bill was slated to go before the General Assembly in April, but according to Manheimer, the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response pushed it off the state agenda. 

Conversation about reviving this legislative ask could wait until Council’s next regular meeting, Manheimer said. Former Council member and current state Sen. Julie Mayfield will be a “great conduit” to get the legislature to help with the tax change, she added.

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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4 thoughts on “Council considers asking state for elected school board

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    NOW is the time to consolidate BOTH government screwl systems into a streamlined ALL ONE system ‘for the children’ AND the taxpayers !!! HOW much money can be saved with ONE system for ALL students in Buncombe Co / AVL city ???

    • James

      Maybe because we’d rather be represented by people who believe in science and logic and truth here in Asheville rather than whatever crawls out from under a rock in your part of the county? People like you make me regret EVER having been a Republican. While I once thought that after Trump was gone I wouldn’t vote for Dems like Bernie Sanders or AOC but thanks to you I’d rather chew that broken glass than EVER vote GOP again. Congrats! You are the best recruiter in the county…for the Democrats.

  2. reuben W dejernette

    Appointed or elected….for me there is a more confounding issue. There is a Buncombe County School Board and an Asheville City School Board. There are two (2) of these dual systems within the State of North Carolina. Asheville is not a large metropolitan area and Buncombe County has population numbers that are consistent with other counties / parishes within the United States that have a county / parish wide school system. Unless the city school system administrative board is a non-salaried position, it would seem like we have created an additional layer of fluff that carries extra expense !!! This is not even mentioning the conundrum involved with rules enforcement or jurisdiction issues.

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    • indy499

      You are correct. Combined the two systems are woefully inefficient. And of the two, somehow Asheville has managed to be worse. Bloated admin. School board incompetents appointed by council cronies. Hopoeless, and now the city schools slammed by the auditor and going broke.

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