Tweaked North Carolina community colleges bill advances

Published 7:55 am Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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By Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

Changes to how North Carolina’s community college system is governed are proceeding again within the General Assembly after action on the legislation stalled last week.

The Senate education committee approved on Monday the measure sought by Republicans that would give more state community college board and local trustee board appointments to the General Assembly and take them away from the governor and local officials.

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The measure was amended, however, to delete many specific additional powers for the state community college system president that GOP lawmakers had sought to shift from the system board. Senate leader Phil Berger suggested last week that providing those additional presidential powers were contingent on the legislature being able to vet state system presidential candidates.

Since the original bill was debated, the State Board of Community Colleges hired Wilkes Community College President Jeff Cox to be the next president of the 58-college system. Cox signed his work contract last week, a state community college spokesperson confirmed Monday. The amended measure still says the state board’s choice of president will require General Assembly confirmation, but bill sponsor Sen. Amy Galey of Alamance County told the committee it would apply to future hires.

Most of the proposed appointment changes remained intact Monday. The state board ultimately would be reduced from 21 voting members to 18 by 2027, with the House and Senate electing nine each to four-year terms. Currently Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper selects 10 members and the General Assembly eight. The lieutenant governor, labor commissioner and state treasurer would no longer be on the board.

As for local college trustee boards, school district boards would no longer fill seats, leaving positions to be chosen by legislative leaders and county commissioners. In a concession to local governments that often help fund campuses, county commissioners could appoint one person from their membership to serve on the local community college board.

Republican lawmakers have said the changes will help address system campuses’ shortcomings in training students to fill positions in expanding industries.

“The overall intent of the bill continues to be increasing our capacity for workforce development,” Galey said Monday.

She also has said previously that the state constitution gives the legislature the responsibility of choosing higher-education board members.

Cooper’s office has criticized the proposal, calling the appointment change a political power grab that would hurt job-recruiting efforts.

“I do worry … that we’re changing the governance of the community college structure way too quickly without consulting the necessary stakeholder groups,” Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, of Wake County, said before the amended measure passed on a voice vote.

The measure likely will be heard on the Senate floor this week.