March 21, 2013The bill introduced by State Sen. Trudy Wade to change the way the Guilford County Board of Education is elected attracted immediate opposition, which should surprise no one.
Those who think changing the way school board members in Guilford County are elected is a terrible idea might want to take a
look at the ballot for the Nov. 6, 2012 election before they start talking about people's voting rights being taken away.
The voters in the November 2012 school board election had no choice in five of the six school board races on the ballot. In the at-large race, Pat Tillman ran against and lost to incumbent school board member Sandra Alexander. Every other school board member on the ballot ran unopposed.
Also unopposed was Rebecca Buffington, who former school board member Kris Cooke hand picked as her successor. So not only do school board members not have to worry about anyone running against them, sometimes they even get to pick the person who will replace them.
Linda Welborn also ran unopposed after she beat incumbent school board member Paul Daniels in the primary and he dropped out of the race.
So you had two candidates running unopposed who were not incumbents and three incumbents running unopposed.
It's not an election if nobody runs, and one reason candidates don't run is because they know that the districts have been drawn so they can't win.
It's obvious from looking at the November ballot that something needs to be done, but nobody was doing anything. If the school board even considered making any change so that someone who was not a member of the school board club could join then they didn't talk publicly about it.
Some people don't want a partisan board, but nobody is running in the nonpartisan races. If the board is partisan, whatever party holds a seat, there will be pressure for the other party to find candidates to run against them. The parties should not only recruit candidates but encourage people to vote.
The editorial in the News & Record Sunday opposing Wade's bill is funny, if you know a little of the history. The school board districts for the 11-member board were drawn identical to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners districts when it was increased from seven members to 11 members. That change was done by the state legislature, at that time dominated by Democrats as it had been for about 120 years. There was no public discussion or debate. The Democratic legislature just did it, for the obvious purpose of getting a Democratic majority on the Board of Commissioners. The school board was an afterthought, but the Democrats have certainly benefitted from that decision, made by the state legislature.
According to our friends at The Eleven County Area News & Record, that was evidently how God intended the school board to be elected, and for the Republicans to dare to tamper with it is akin to heresy.
At least with this Republican plan there is some public discussion. But it is no wonder the liberals don't want the school board districts changed because as long as they are based on those original districts drawn by the Democrats in 1992, it is going to be nearly impossible to elect enough conservative school board members to make a difference.
A problem that this change would help solve is the persecution complex that the school board has. School board members seem to think that the Guilford County commissioners, the state legislature, parents, students and sometimes even their own teachers are out to get them. The school board has developed an us versus them mentality, and they circle the wagons at the first sign of opposition.
If the board were partisan it would be more difficult for those bonds between school board members and against everyone else to be so strong. The school board members would have loyalty to their political parties and to their constituents. You would expect Republican school board members to have some rapport with Republican county commissioners and Democrat school board members to have some rapport with the members of their party on the Board of Commissioners.
One part of the bill that seems to have taken people by surprise is the method of electing the two at-large board members, where voters get to vote for one candidate in the primary and one in the general election. The reason for "limited voting," which has been used in Anson, Bladen, Martin and Robeson counties, is usually to provide minority representation. It can be used to provide representation for a racial minority or for a political minority. In some states it is used frequently to ensure that both major political parties are represented on a local governing body.
In the case of the Guilford County Board of Education it would pretty much assure that one at-large seat would be won by a Democrat and one by a Republican.
In the at-large race for the school board in November, about 182,000 people voted, which was about 74,000 less than voted in the presidential election.
Partisan races tend to attract more voters, so one way to increase voter participation is to make a race partisan.
As far as the two-year terms go, it's going to be hard to convince the state representatives and senators that two-year terms are a bad idea since they all serve two-year terms, as do members of US House of Representatives.
If the school board is changed to two-year terms then it will leave the Guilford County Board of Commissioners as the odd man out, being elected to four-year terms. And it would not be a surprise for the state to change those terms also.
For the past 140 years the Democrats have drawn districts and designed elections so that they could stay in power and now that the Republicans have control of the government you have to expect the Republicans to try and swing the pendulum back in their favor.