A partisan school board is a bad idea

Change would discourage unaffiliated voters from running
Mar 14, 2017

The first two stories published in The Mountaineer about a local bill that makes the Haywood County Board of Education one of a handful in the state to select school members on a party basis sparked dozens on comments.

While a few of those weighing in thought the idea of knowing the political party of school board candidates was a good idea, most thought the legislation was a terrible idea.

Comments found on The Mountaineer’s Facebook page, as well as after the stories posted online suggest the Haywood County School system is obviously doing something right since it is ranked in the top 10 percent in the state. They question why the change is necessary.

Others discuss the bickering both in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., not only between those in differing political parties, but in the extreme or moderate wings of a specific party. They wonder why in the world would that type of posturing would need to be added to a board that has functioned harmoniously through the years.

Still others are concerned that the bill’s author, Rep. Michele Presnell, decided that Haywood needed to be part of a local bill dealing with several other counties without even asking the elected officials in Haywood who the people have chosen to oversee education matters. Local officials shouldn’t feel that bad. Presnell didn’t even ask the other members of the legislative delegation representing Haywood about the issue, even though there is a long-standing tradition in Raleigh that local bills must be agreed upon by all representing an area to have a shot at passage.

School board members were particularly concerned about the idea of introducing partisan politics into their proceedings. Most said they cannot remember a time when discussions turned on the platforms or tenets of a specific political party. The elected school board members said their primary concern is the children, their parents and providing the best education possible. Taking a chance that an acceptable topic of discussion would be the ideology of a specific political party was an anathema to them.

The one issue few have discussed so far, but is well worth discussion, involves the impact on the unaffiliated voter if the law passes.

Currently, school board candidates pay a filing fee and their name is on the ballot. If the races become partisan, only Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans will be able to file for office in that manner because those are the only three political parties recognized in the state.

The unaffiliated voters — those who are most willing to consider candidates not based only on their political party, but on their ideas, community service and voting record — will face a daunting task just to be considered as a candidate.

First off, the party primaries are only for party members, so unaffiliated candidates will have no public exposure until closer to the General Election.

Then, to even have their name appear on the ballot, the middle-of-the-roaders will need to gather petition signatures of 4 percent of the registered voters in the county. In Haywood, that’s more than 1,700 names if the number of voters doesn’t go up. There are numerous challenges in getting petition signature. Many of the names turn out to be invalid, either because they live outside the county, a signer thinks they are registered but aren’t, a person doesn’t sign legibly or a person fails to sign in the same way their name appears on the voter registration rolls. In reality, that means many more than 1,700 names will be needed.

The most recent records show that 30 percent of the voters in Haywood aren’t affiliated with either political party. It seems just plain wrong that almost a third of the registered voters in this county won’t be able to easily run for the school board if this bill passes.

Readers have made their views known in their responses to this idea. We encourage all with an interest in this topic to take the next step and share their views with Haywood’s legislative delegation.

The facts show the Haywood County School system had good outcomes and has functioned with little turmoil. Making a change that risks upsetting this success story shows no promise. Tell your legislators this is a bad idea.