School board baffled by election change proposal

By Vicki Hyatt | Mar 13, 2017

Haywood County Board of Education members briefly discussed legislation at a work session Thursday that could make Haywood one of a handful of counties in which school board members would run on a partisan ticket.

Currently, candidates have no party designation in Haywood’s school board elections, but that would change if a local bill co-sponsored by Rep. Michele Presnell (R-Yancey) passes. The measure provides that all three school boards in her district, (Haywood, Madison and Yancey) as well as three other school boards in the state, would be switched from nonpartisan to partisan board members.

The three recognized parties in North Carolina include Democrat, Libertarian, and Republican. Unaffiliated voters, which total about 30 percent of the voters in Haywood, could not simply file for office as they do now. They would need to get a petition signed by 4 percent of the registered voters in the county to get their name on the ballot, said Robert Inman, Haywood County Board of Elections director.

In the 2016 General Election, there were 44,289 registered voters, so 4 percent would equal 1,771.

School Board Chairman Chuck Francis asked fellow board members if they had spoken with Presnell before she introduced the bill, adding she hadn’t contacted him. All indicated they weren’t asked about the change, either.

“I was taken aback,” Francis said. “I baffled me that a bill would be introduced by our legislative group without us even knowing about it. This affects this board. We’re here for benefit of children, not political parties.”

Francis said if it wasn’t for the N.C. School Board Association giving him a heads up, he wouldn’t have been aware of the bill. When he caught up with Presnell late Thursday, he asked her what prompted the bill.

“She said she had talked to a lot of people in Haywood and all were in favor of it,” Francis said, asking the board if they wanted to add the issue to Monday night’s agenda or draft a resolution taking a stance on the issue.

Because the Thursday meeting was a work session, no immediate action could be taken, but board members indicated they didn't support bringing politics into their long-standing school board tradition of nonpartisanship.

Before Monday, Francis told the board he would communicate with the Yancey and Madison county school board leaders. Board member Jim Harley Francis suggested inviting Presnell to the Monday night board meeting.

The board will hold a public hearing on the proposed school board budget at 6 p.m. Monday to be followed by the regular board meeting at 7 p.m. The board meets at the Education Center in Clyde.