Local and state officials, along with the public, spent Thursday night weighing the pros and cons of downsizing the Pitt County Board of Education.
Republican House Representative Brian Brown hosted a public forum at J.H. Rose high school on his proposed legislation to reduce the board from 12 to 9 members and reduce their terms from six to four years.
Advocates for the board spoke out saying they worried minority representation would be lost and portions north of the Tar River, along with other rural areas, would also lose representation.
Pitt County Board of Education Chairman Mac Whichard sighted numerous accomplishments the board had brought fourth like reaching their target drop-out reduction rate a year earlier than expected. He said the Pitt County School System was one of the best east of Highway 95.
Parents also spoke out saying they had not seen those accomplishments affect their children. One parent questioned how the school system was better off when there weren't enough textbooks for her children to take home.
State Democratic Senator Don Davis took the podium saying he had submitted legislation like Rep. Brian Brown's to the State Senate Wednesday. He said that was the last day he could file the legislation but promised to include a referendum that would allow Pitt County residents to vote on reducing the board, rather than leaving it up to lawmakers as Rep. Brian Brown's proposed legislation would do.
Democratic House Representative Jean Farmer-Butterfield also spoke, saying she would amend Rep. Brown's house bill to include a referendum like Sen. Davis' legislation.
Lawmakers hope to bring both the Senate and House versions of the proposed bills to a public vote later in the year.
It's safe to say not everyone on the Pitt County School Board is open to reducing its size. Some board members say the size is necessary, while Representative Brian Brown says it's a hindrance.
"They're disappointed with the leadership surrounding the board and they would just like to see something changed and a more efficient and effective board created," said Brown, (R) NC House District 9.
Brown says it's all he's heard about since he took office: Pitt County's 12-member Board of Education is just too large.
We checked with neighboring county school boards and a majority of them only have seven members. In fact, we found Pitt County to have the largest board in the state, even outnumbering boards for the Raleigh and Charlotte areas.
Though a previous bill to reduce the board to seven members failed, Brown says this bill will be different.
"One of things we're doing is not trying to take it as low as seven but making it coincide with the county commissioners," said Brown.
Brown wants to reduce the board to nine members with four-year terms. District 1 board member Mildred Council is against the reduction.
"Equating us to the county commissioners? You can't do that," said Council.
Council says the board of commissioners operates differently.
She says the current 12 members of the board of education are needed to properly represent what she calls Pitt County's overly diverse population. Council says she's never heard a complaint from the public.
"It had not come up at all. They are fine the way it is because they know they have representation to have someone at the board meetings that will speak for them," said Council.
Brown says he's hearing about the problem loud and clear.
"We should be in the top 10 percent in terms of public school systems in the state and we're not there and I think it really speaks to leadership," said Brown.
"We may look dysfunctional to some but, guess what, we have made a lot of things happen since I been there one year and a lot of great things hopefully will be happening in the future," said Council.
Brown has until March 20th to submit his legislation and he wants your input.
Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:
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