NC Board of Education’s Gridlock May End as New Seats Are Up For Grabs

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PC: Roy Cooper / Flickr

Laura Ashley Powell
Staff Writer

Two members of North Carolina’s top Board of Education, Bill Cobey and Becky Taylor, will be leaving their positions despite the fact that their terms do not end until next year. Due to their resignations, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper will have the authority to fill their seats without the permission of his Republican counterparts.

For months, Democratic Gov. Cooper has appointed others to fill seats for the school board’s members whose terms have come to an end. The Republican majority has blocked every appointment he has made. When Cooper’s appointments have been in limbo, interims have had to fill in the vacant seats for extended periods of time.

“With the legislature not approving the governor’s appointments, really the only way that a board member’s seat gets filled appears to be the way that Bill and Becky are going,” said the Board’s Vice Chairman, Eric Davis, in an interview with N.C. Policy Watch. “That’s the only way a new member gets appointed.”

Cobey and Taylor admitted that the gridlock contributed to their desires to leave. There is rarely a bipartisan agreement with whom to fill vacant seats, and some legislators end up serving longer than they wanted to. For instance, Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt are two members of the board who are still serving, even though their terms ended 16 months ago.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Cooper told N.C. Policy Watch that they are in the process of finding appointees for the soon-to-be vacant seats. These appointees would only be required to serve until Cobey’s and Taylor’s terms were meant to end next March. If no legislative action is taken by March 31, 2019, they will be able to stay in their positions.

State Rep. Graig Meyer, who serves in the House Education Committee, shed some light onto the party conflict within the legislation in a message to N.C. Policy Watch.

“People want education leadership to be bipartisan and collaborative,” said Meyer. “Cobey and Taylor were trying to do it the right way. But their own party made it too hard. I’m sure Gov. Cooper will appoint replacements who will continue to work with anyone interested in good education policy for all students.”

The party struggle over appointees in North Carolina’s Board of Education started around 2011 when Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue attempted to replace resigning members. She was not successful due to Republican counteraction. Her successor, Republican Pat McCrory, was then able to fill these and other seats with his appointees, two of whom being Cobey and Taylor.

North Carolina’s General Assembly is legally required to make a decision on the Governor’s appointees, but there is no time requirement for doing so. What legislators did with Purdue was wait to make their decision on her appointees until Purdue was no longer in office, so McCrory could make appointments. It appears that Republican lawmakers have been using the same tactic with Governor Cooper, waiting months to turn down Cooper’s appointees Sandra Byrd and J.B. Buxton.

“All this discussion about power, rules, authority, regulation and court cases can be a distraction from the reason that we all took these seats to the State Board of Education,” said Board Member Tricia Willoughby to N.C. Policy Watch. “You want to be there focused on children.”

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