RALEIGH – Last week during floor debate in the House on another bill aimed at granting flexibility in setting school calendars, Watauga County Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan offered a blunt plea to his colleges:
“Do it statewide or give it to my district,” he said.
Jordan, along with other WNC legislators have backed bills to give school boards in their districts broader scheduling flexibility and in a classic east-west legislative battle, the mountain delegation has been met by strong opposition from the coastal delegation, which asserts that pushing school start times earlier into August would devastate the seasonal tourism industry.
WNC legislators have filed four bills in the House and Senate this year to provide school scheduling flexibility for Ashe, Avery, McDowell, Mitchell, Rutherford and Watauga counties.
The western delegation scored a win in the latest round with House approval last Thursday of a statewide bill by Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, to allow school boards to synch up their calendars with local community colleges. The bill would not allow any start date earlier than August 14.
McGrady’s bill passed 108-6, but he acknowledged that it was a compromise on the way to longer-range solution.
“If we can’t look at the whole issue of school calendar, perhaps we can incrementally go there,” he said during debate.
Some of his WNC colleagues took the occasion to voice their frustration over getting flexibility for their districts.
Fighting over school calendars is not uncommon in the legislature, but Jordan said this year it had gone too far.
He complained that local bills giving Ashe and Watauga counties relief have been repeatedly killed in committee. The two counties that make up his district are at the top of the list of counties with days missed due to weather, he said.
“Tourism is extremely important to the High Country that I represent,” Jordan said. “With us missing as much as we do and filling in spaces with half-Saturdays, which are nothing, we’ve got to remember that the education of our kids is pretty important, too. We’ve got to balance interests.”
Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Macon, said it was also an issue of local control over decision.
“Whether you believe the schools should be started later or whether you believe they should be started earlier, I believe first and foremost that the decision ought to be local and not from Raleigh,” Corbin said.
Bills on Asheville, school board races
Local elections are also the subject of several local bills, including Henderson Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards’ controversial revival of former Sen. Tom Apodaca’s Asheville City Council redistricting bill.
Edwards’ legislation, Senate Bill 285, which is expected to start moving through the committee process this month, would require the city to either draw its own six council districts by early November or the districts drawn by Apodaca last year would take effect.
The Asheville City Council is expected to review the results of polling on the idea today (Tuesday), and could to hold a referendum on the plan. Edwards has said he is opposed to a referendum and wants to see the city proceed with creating a district election plan. A federal judge struck down a similar law redrawing districts in Greensboro in part over the lack of a local vote on the plan. The new bill hopes to avoid that fate by giving the city government the ability to draw districts, only imposing districts drawn by the General Assembly if the council doesn’t act.
Other local elections-related bills are aimed at converting current nonpartisan elections to partisan and, in one case, undoing a prior conversion bill.
House Bill 295 changes elections for Haywood, Madison and Yancey school boards from nonpartisan to partisan starting in 2018. House Bill 293 changes elections for the Swain County Board of Education to partisan starting in 2018 and House Bill 127 reverses a 2016 law and returns the election method for the Transylvania Board of Education from partisan to nonpartisan.
Local bill roundup
Other local bills filed include:
- H449 Henderson County Law Enforcement Training Center — allows for construction and renovation for a training center at the Blue Ridge Community College campus in Henderson County. Introduced by Rep. McGrady.
- H414 Swain County Fly Fishing — names Swain County official home of the Fly Fishing Museum. Introduced by Rep. Mike Clampitt.
- H260 Road to Nowhere — Directs Attorney General to investigate ways for Swain County to ensure payment of $39 million settlement from the Department of Interior over the failure to finish the North Shore Road. Introduced by Rep. Clampitt.
- H218 Buncombe Bow Hunting — Makes it a Class 3 misdemeanor to bow hunt from the right of way of any state maintained road in Buncombe County. Introduced by Reps. Brian Turner, John Ager and Susan Fisher.
Several additional local bills constitute local authorizations
- S135/H217 — Allows Buncombe County to set up a domestic violence fatality prevention and protection review team under a state program.
- S414 — Allows $100,000 in Macon County grant funds to be used for community purposes.
- S416 — Redirects $50,000 appropriated last year to Watauga County for tourism to purchase the Guy Ford Road access on the Watauga River.
- H941 — Allows flexibility for transferring coverage areas among fire tax districts in Henderson County.
- H429 — Authorizes the City of Saluda to create a new tax district in the portion of the city in Polk County and to levy a 3 percent occupancy tax.