Council to reconsider ask for elected school board

Asheville city seal

In the latest installment of the ongoing Asheville City Board of Education saga, Asheville City Council will resume talks regarding an elected school board at its meeting of Tuesday, March 9. Currently, Asheville City Schools is one of two districts in the state that appoints school board members rather than hold open elections for vacant seats. 

Making the change would require action by the N.C. General Assembly. At Council’s meeting of Feb. 23, members approved an agenda of requests to go before the state legislature without any mention of shifting the school board’s composition. At the time, Mayor Esther Manheimer said the matter wasn’t included because it didn’t have unanimous Council support. 

Two proposals are now up for consideration. One outlines a request for a fully elected school board; the other sets up a hybrid model in which Council would “partially relinquish” their involvement by appointing two members and allowing ACS district residents to elect the other three. Members would be elected to four-year terms, the plans state, and limited to two consecutive terms. 

During preliminary school board discussions on Jan. 26, Council member Antanette Mosley told her colleagues she was opposed to making any changes before finding out why the board had been established as an appointed body. Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith and Sage Turner both hesitated to make any shift before Council could engage with community members on the issue. 

A joint meeting between Council, the Asheville City Board of Education and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners was also discussed, though a date has yet to be set. Asked for their opinions on an electoral process earlier this year, only two of the five current school board members responded; Joyce Brown and Martha Geitner both said there were “pros and cons” to the proposal and did not offer a definitive opinion.

Even if Council decides to request legislation for school board elections, members must still make appointments to three vacant seats by Thursday, April 1. Council is slated to interview seven candidates the morning of Tuesday, March 23, before voting on their choices that evening.

In other news

Council will also hold a public hearing on the issuance of Limited Obligation Refunding Bonds. In May 2018, Council issued a $48 million limited obligation bond anticipation note, a short-term debt measure used to access money more quickly, to pay for transportation upgrades in the River Arts District, improvements on Charlotte Street and park facility light replacements. 

To pay back the $34.9 million the city has drawn on that note, refunding bonds need to be issued by Thursday, April 15. The sale will close on Thursday, April 29.

Prior to their regular meeting, Council members will attend a 1:00 p.m. work session to discuss the city’s fiscal year 2021-22 operating budget. The meeting will be livestreamed at this link; no public comment will be accepted.

Consent agenda and public comment

The consent agenda for the meeting contains seven items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions: 

  • A $3,252,544 contract with Hendersonville-based IPC Paving for work on the French Broad River Greenway West project. Construction will begin in April on a 1.02 mile stretch between the French Broad River Park and the existing greenway, which ends at the Haywood Road Bridge. Federal funding will cover $2.8 million of the costs; the rest will come from the previously approved capital improvement project budget. 
  • A $480,000 budget amendment allowing City Manager Debra Campbell to extend the city’s contract with Young Transportation through the end of the fiscal year. The company was contracted to provide supplemental bus service during the COVID-19 pandemic; the extension brings the contract total to $2,002,000. 
  • A budget amendment to accept $18,000 in grant funding from the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality for a backyard composting education program. The city is required to match 20% of the grant funds, or $3,600; the Sanitation Division and the Office of Sustainability will each contribute $1,800. 

The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found at this link. Due to COVID-19, Council will meet remotely, and the meeting will be livestreamed through Asheville’s Public Engagement Hub.

Members of the public who wish to speak during the meeting must sign up in advance at this link or call 828-259-5900 no later than 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 9. City staff will then use the list of registered speakers to manage the speaker queue during the meeting.

Prerecorded voicemail messages can also be left at 855-925-2801, meeting code 7728; written comments can be sent to AshevilleCityCouncilMar092021@PublicInput.com. Emails will be accepted for 24 hours after each public hearing.

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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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