Oversight of North Carolina’s community college system and its 58 member schools would shift toward the legislature at the expense of the governor and local school boards in legislation approved on Wednesday by the state Senate.
Republican senators have said they’re pushing the legislation because they say more accountability is needed to ensure the system and its campuses are training workers who can fill jobs of new or expanding employers. They also point to a provision in the state constitution giving the legislature the job of choosing higher-education board members.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who with future governors would lose the ability to fill scores of state board and local trustee board spots, considers the measure a political power play that will hurt his ability recruit companies to build in North Carolina. The measure is the latest effort by Republican legislators to pare back the governor’s appointment powers to powerful state boards and commissions.
NORTH CAROLINA ADVANCES REVISED COMMUNITY COLLEGE BILL
The bill, which passed 31-19 and now goes to the House, would reduce in 2027 the voting membership on the State Board of Community Colleges from 21 to 18 with the elimination of the lieutenant governor, labor commissioner and state treasurer. The House and Senate each would elected nine members to four year terms. Currently Cooper selects 10 members and the General Assembly eight.
Save for a handful of exceptions, the governor currently gets to choose four members at local trustee boards, with county commissioners and local school boards electing nearly all of the other members. The bill would cut out the governor and school boards and let legislative leaders choose a majority of appointments.
Efforts by Democratic senators to retain in full or in part the current appointment structures failed as Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to send Democratic amendments to dead ends.
Local community colleges have expressed concerns that the governance changes would actually make them less responsive to meeting the needs of business and industry, according to Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat.
NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICANS AIM TO REVOKE GOVERNOR’S ABILITY TO PICK COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOARDS
“This bill, simply put, would remove ‘community’ from community colleges,” Chaudhuri said in opposing the bill. “A coordinated effort between the executive and legislative branch has resulted in our state recording a record number of job announcements over the last few years.”
One Democrat — Sen. Mary Wills Bode of Granville County — joined all Republicans in voting for the bill.
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An earlier version of the measure would have given the state community college system president many more powers, pulling them away from the state board. But Republicans removed changes just after the board last month approved Wilkes Community College President Jeff Cox to be the next system president. A requirement that the president now be subject to General Assembly confirmation remains in the bill but would apply to future designees.
The bill was approved by the Senate before this week’s “crossover” deadline. Proposals unrelated to taxes or spending and a few other categories that don’t pass one legislative chamber by Thursday face long odds to be considered during the remainder of the two-year session.