Presnell introduces bill to make Haywood school board races partisan

By Vicki Hyatt | Mar 09, 2017

State Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Yancey, has introduced a local bill that would make school board races in Haywood County partisan.

Haywood County School Board Chairman Chuck Francis said he learned about House Bill 265 introduced by Presnell and two others through the N.C. School Board Association.

Francis said he had no contact with any of the Haywood legislative delegation before the bill was introduced.

The measure would change the election method from nonpartisan to partisan for boards of education in the following counties: Beaufort, Dare, Haywood, Hyde, Madison and Yancey. Half of the counties affected by the change are in Presnell’s district.

As proposed, the measure would change the election method beginning in 2018, at which time the board members, who run for a four-year term, would be elected on a partisan basis.

The current district configuration, which includes electing one member from the Bethel, Clyde, Crabtree-Iron Duff and Fine’s Creek districts, and two members each from the Beaverdam and Waynesville districts, was unchanged.

The school board chairman will still be elected at large, but will run as a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian in the primary election.

In the case of a vacancy for school board members elected in 2014 or 2016, the board of education in Haywood will name a replacement. Under the change, however, when subsequent vacancies occur, the provisions in General Statutes 115C will be followed.

Those provisions are as follows: (a) All vacancies in the membership of county boards of education which are elected by public or local act on a partisan basis shall be filled by appointment of the person, board, or commission specified in the act, except that if the act specifies that appointment shall be made by a party executive committee, then the appointment shall be made instead by the remaining members of the board.

(b) If the vacating member was elected as the nominee of a political party, then the person, board, or commission required to fill the vacancy shall consult with the county executive committee of that party and appoint the person recommended by that party executive committee, if the party executive committee makes a recommendation within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.

Thursday, Presnell couldn’t talk for long, so was unable to clarify which replacement method listed above would be used in Haywood.

The bill, she said, came on the heels of legislation that would make all judicial posts in the partisan.

“I thought, ‘this is exactly right. People need more information when they go to the polls,’” Presnell said. “Do they want a conservative, or do they want a liberal?”

That prompted her to call around to people in her legislative district to hear their thoughts on the matter. She wasn’t able to say how many people she called in Haywood, but did say none were on the school board.

“After calling around, I decided to add all three of my counties and be a co-sponsor of the bill,” she said.

When asked about whether she contacted the other two legislators representing Haywood, Presnell said she hadn’t spoken to them on the issue.

With past local bills introduced in Raleigh, Haywood leaders have been told there needs to be agreement among a district’s legislative delegation for it to pass.

“It would be nice if they would support it,” she said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens to the bill. I’m not going to stress over it.”

Calls to the other legislators representing Haywood in the N.C. General Assembly were not returned by press deadline. State law stipulates that school board members are elected on a nonpartisan basis unless exceptions are made.

Only about a dozen or so counties have changed to a partisan election process for boards of education.