Bill restricts local decisions about school board

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 06:38 PM

The Legislature Thursday passed a version of a bill that restricts voters from making decisions about local school boards. In the latest version of the bill that is now law, voters won’t have a say in school board elections becoming partisan.
The referendum to allow voters to decide whether school board elections should be partisan was dropped and partisan Guilford County Board of Education elections will go into effect in 2016.
The law also will eliminate a district and an at-large school board seat, which will make the school district map identical to the Board of Commissioners districts. This will decrease the school board from a nine districts to eight. The number of members drops from 11 to nine in 2016.
To retain the staggered terms, all seats up for election in 2014 will be for two-year terms from their current districts. Board members that were elected in 2010 will have shortened terms. The new districts will start in 2016.
The even-numbered districts and the at-large seat will be elected for two-year terms and the odd-numbered districts for four years. Then in 2018, even districts will go to four-year terms as well to keep the current staggered arrangement.
Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, first proposed the partisan elections in March. Wade also wanted two-year board terms instead of four, and would have kept the board at 11 members. Gov. Pat McCrory does not have to sign the local bill on the Guilford changes.

What does the school board think?
The school board as a whole has voiced opposition to the legislation when it was a bill and those opinions have not changed.
Carlvena Foster represents District 1 in High Point and will be drawn into the same district as District 9 representative Amos Quick in southwestern Greensboro.
“It works the way it is,” Foster said. “It doesn’t make sense to change something that’s obviously working. They aren’t looking at the impact on the schools, the children and the families. This will probably discourage people from running.
Linda Welborn, who represents District 5 which covers Jamestown, and Rebecca Buffington, District 7 rep, were drawn into the same district. Both Welborn and Buffington were elected to the board in 2012. Board members Ed Price, Jeff Belton, Deena Hayes and Sandra Alexander’s new districts don’t conflict with other members’ districts.
Price, the District 2 rep in High Point, said dropping the referendum was a not a good idea.
“The people ought to have the right to vote on it,” he said. “I could accept anything the voters approve. I don’t see where it makes sense for people in Raleigh or Wilmington or Asheville telling us how to run schools in Guilford County. But it’ll be what it’ll be and we’ll do what we can for the children of Guilford County.”
Alan Duncan, GCS board chairman, said that the nonpartisan part of the bill is unfortunate but did not want to comment on other portions that he is not as familiar with.
“As a school board, we have worked effectively in the interest of children for a long time on a nonpartisan board. It is most unfortunate that the idea of partisan elections has been injected into the school board election process,” he said. “There is nothing that seems to be child centered about such legislation but focuses on political issues instead of our children. Even more unfortunately, the rest of the legislative package relating to public education has also not been child centered which will have the effect of damage the needed support of our public schools.”
Darlene Garrett, who has been outspoken of her opposition to the bill said it is not a good law either.
“The worst part of this bill is making elections partisan because making decisions based on party affiliations is not really good for education,” said Garrett, the District 3 board member, who was drawn into the same district as Duncan. “If Republicans think that what they’re doing now is in the best interest of our students, I cannot agree. I don’t believe in what they’re doing in education.”
Garrett said that she is considering running for the state House of Representatives or Senate.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “We need people to run for these offices because the road we’re going down now is not good for North Carolina.”

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