John Hood: Reform North Carolina’s education boards

Dec. 04, 2012 @ 12:22 AM

RALEIGH – The single-largest expenditure of taxpayer funds in North Carolina is public education. We spend billions of dollars on public schools, community colleges, and universities. So why aren’t we talking more about how weird North Carolina’s system of education governance is?
Public schools, community colleges, and the University of North Carolina system have their own governance boards. They differ substantially in design and operation. Consider the details:
• The State Board of Education has 13 voting members. They include 11 members appointed by the governor to eight-year terms, plus the elected lieutenant governor and state treasurer as ex-officio members. The elected state superintendent of public instruction serves as secretary of the board. Eight of the 11 gubernatorial appointees specific regions of the state, while three are at-large members. The appointive eight-year terms are staggered so that two to three slots open up every two years.
• The State Board of Community Colleges has 21 members. They include 10 members appointed by the governor, four members selected by the North Carolina House, and four members selected by the North Carolina Senate, plus the lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and president of the community college system’s student government association president.
The members selected by the governor and legislature serve six-year terms, staggered so that roughly a third come up for reelection every two years. The governor’s 10 appointments must include one member from each of state’s six community college regions, plus four at-large members. Each of the system’s 58 campuses has its own board of trustees with members appointed by the governor, local school boards, and county commissions.
• The UNC Board of Governors has 32 voting members. They include 16 members elected by the House and 16 members elected by the Senate. These members serve staggered four-year terms. In addition to these voting members, the UNC system’s student government association president serves as a non-voting member, as do some emeritus members. Each of the UNC system’s campuses also has its own board of 12 voting trustees (eight selected by the UNC Board of Governors, four by the governor) plus a student-body president as non-voting member.
So the General Assembly has essentially no role in controlling the State Board of Education, the governor has essentially no role in controlling the UNC Board of Governors, and the two branches share the role of controlling the State Board of Community Colleges. While the UNC and community college boards hire the CEOs of their systems, the head of the Department of Public Instruction, the state superintendent, is independently elected.
Now, I know these oddities are not accidental. The Legislature has long relished its control of the UNC system while governors have sparred with state superintendents and lawmakers over who should be responsible for forming and carrying out public-school policies.
But here we are, well into the 21st century, with a set of governance policies for North Carolina education that serve mostly to confuse the public and confound effective management. Let’s do something about it.

John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and author of “Our Best Foot Forward,” a book on North Carolina’s economy. It is available at Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.