Our View: Why worry with Wade school board bill?

Apr. 07, 2013 @ 12:05 AM

Why?
That’s the best one-word response we can think of to N.C. Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill that would radically alter elections of members of the Guilford County Board of Education.
Wade, the first-term Republican legislator from Greensboro and former city and county officeholder, has introduced Senate Bill 317 calling for partisan elections to be held for Guilford school board races. The bill also redistricts the 11-member board and sets terms at two years.
If enacted by the Legislature, the bill would drastically change the system of elections for Guilford’s Board of Education. County school board elections always have been nonpartisan, meaning that ballots are prepared for voting without regard to candidates’ political affiliations. Currently, terms of office are four years, and are staggered so part of the board is up for election every two years. And district boundaries — which must comply with federal census and justice department guidelines — were determined in 2010 to be in compliance as they exist now.
So why?
Why is Wade pushing this measure to alter school board elections when there has been no public outcry for such changes? Wade’s bill is classified as a “local bill,” meaning that it is written to apply specifically to matters of concern more on a local level of governmental administration. Under N.C. law, such local matters still must be approved by the General Assembly, but the impetus for this kind of legislation most often comes from local folks who have determined that a change is needed.
Where is the local outcry for this? We’ve heard no local discussion of pressing needs for these proposed changes. Quite the contrary, last month the Guilford County Board of Education — which we are certain includes people with a variety of political viewpoints — voted unanimously to express opposition to Wade’s bill. Wade seems to be advancing a personal agenda, not the will of the people she was elected to represent.
Wade defends the bill saying it more closely aligns school board districts with those of county commissioners districts that the Legislature redistricted last year. She also says her bill would give residents the opportunity to have more input and choices.
Action to reduce board terms to two years may have some merit. But certainly, it should not be undertaken without public discussion and a vote of Guilford County residents to determine whether they support reducing term lengths. Senate Bill 317 imposes that change on residents without a vote of the people.
As for injecting partisan politics into school board elections, such a move certainly is ill-advised. Additionally, redistricting the board’s nine district boundaries (there are two at-large seats) seems unnecessary now since current lines meet legal requirements.
Wade’s bill, now in a Senate committee, should not move forward because it would be detrimental to the school board’s functions and operations and because it denies the people a voice in this important matter. Let’s hope her fellow legislators see it that way, too.