The Wake County school system is paying longtime lobbyist Theresa Kostrzewa $35,000 to encourage the General Assembly not to pass legislation changing school ownership and school board elections.
School board chairman Keith Sutton said he picked Kostrzewa because she's effective, is willing to work for the school board and has no conflicts of interest. Last year, Kostrzewa was ranked the state's ninth-most influential lobbyist by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
"She's a top 10 lobbyist," Sutton said in an interview Wednesday.
Kostrzewa will try to persuade legislators not to pass bills that would create at-large school board seats in Wake and let county commissioners take over ownership of schools and help build charter schools. The bills are expected to be introduced soon.
There seems to have been some confusion between the board and staff about whether a public vote would be held on hiring the lobbyist. There was already a public vote on Feb. 5 authorizing interim Superintendent Stephen Gainey to hire a lobbyist.
Sutton said it was never his intention to have a second public vote. Sutton said the first vote made a second one unnecessary. Sutton also said time was a factor too so he made the decision to hire Kostrzewa last week after talking with several firms.
Sutton said the contract is for $35,000 for Kostrzewa's firm, North State Strategies. He said the $35,000 covers both Kostrzewa and one of her employees, Angel Sams.
The funding will come from the school district's undesignated fund balance.
Both Kostrzewa and Sams filed paperwork Friday registering themselves as lobbyists for the school system.
Their paperwork lists Gainey as the authorizing agent. But Sutton said that's strictly because Gainey is an employee of the school system and he is not.
Sutton reemphasized that it was him and not Gainey who hired North State.
Gainey under board policy has the authority to sign contracts of up to $100,000 without board approval. Sutton said he had wanted the Feb. 5 public vote authorizing the hiring of a lobbyist to show it was a board action and not directed by staff.
Kostrzewa will oppose former Raleigh mayor Tom Fetzer, who was hired at up to $25,000 to represent Wake County Commissioners in lobbying for the legislative changes. Fetzer was ranked the state's second-most influential lobbyist last year.