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Commissioners delay resolution calling for partisan School Board elections


Under pressure from constituents demanding transparency and public input, Henderson County commissioners pulled a resolution from their agenda calling for partisan School Board elections today and moved it to their meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday Feb. 6.

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta, who introduced the resolution, defended the change to partisan elections.




After they learned of county commissioners' effort to make School Board elections partisan, Henderson County League of Women Voters members spent the holiday weekend and Tuesday contacting commissioners to urge them to delay acting on a resolution calling for the change.

The reolution is on the consent agenda for the Board of Commissioners meeting today — a budget retreat during which no public comment time is scheduled. Consent agenda items aren't discussed by commissioners, which League members say seems to suggest a lack of transparency.

The resolution says that 29 other school district are governed by school boards elected on a partisan basis. "Election clarity and transparency are of upmost importance to insure voters a basis for their decisions," it says. "Identification of candidates’ party and/or ideological affiliation will provide voters with more information on the policies and positions such candidates support."

“Our immediate concern is the lack of transparency in putting this motion on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting of the Board of Commissioners," said Jane Pulling, a retired schools superintendent from Marion, South Carolina, who chairs the League's Education Committee. "We found out about this on Friday.”

When Pulling called schools Superintendent Mark Garrett, she learned that “he was not aware of this, nor was his board aware of  it. Then one of our members reached out to the Board of Elections and they had not been informed.”

During an emergency meeting of the League over the weekend, board members agreed by consensus to oppose the resolution and also to make calls urging commissioners to delay the resolution.

“The League would very much like this for this agenda item to be moved from the consent agenda to an open meeting at a future date to allow for public education and public input, whatever one’s point of view,” she said.

She said she learned that the resolution appeared on the agenda at the behest of Commissioner Daniel Andreotta. After she contacted him, she concluded, “I don’t think his point of view has been changed in any way.” Board Chair Rebecca McCall, on the other hand, favored delaying action.

“When I talked this afternoon with Mrs. McCall she said she would be voting to have it moved to a future meeting,” Pulling said Tuesday night. “But three other people could vote for it and she would be outvoted.”

“Our opposition based on the national League and also our local League’s position is that we oppose partisan elections of School Board members for a number of reasons,” she said. “The first and foremost is we feel it diminishes public input into public education. We’re totally nonpartisan. More important is the League believes School Board issues are not partisan issues. The School Board should be about what is best for children and how do we improve the education system and neither of those is partisan."

The Board of Commissioners plans to send the resolution to the county's legislative delegation, all Republicans, asking the members to file a bill to achieve the switch in time for the 2024 elections, when four seats on the seven-member board are up for re-election. Given the county's overwhelming GOP tilt, the change could ensure an all-Republican School Board. Like the Board of Commissioners, the county's elected sheriff, register of deeds, clerk of superior court and district and superior court judges are all Republicans. Republican activists have had success in recent elections as well pushing Republican candidates for the School Board by working the polls and handing out palm cards that endorsed Republican candidates on the nonpartisan ballot.

In the November general election, Republicans swept three seats when Jay Egolf won re-election and newcomers Alyssa Norman and Sheila Dale were elected. Dot Case, registered as unaffiliated, lost her re-election bid. The current board is made up of five Republicans, chair Blair Craven, a former Republican who is now unaffiliated, and one Democrat, Stacey Caskey.

Not everyone was in favor of the change. Several voters pointed out in messages to the Lightning that as a consent agenda item the resolution would not be subject to board discussion and that Wednesday's meeting is a budget retreat with no time set aside for public comment.

"If passed, this is just another way to dumb down the voters," voter Lois Van Reese said in an email. "I have worked for several cycles at the Board of Elections offering curbside voting for our residents.  This is a wonderful service offered by our Board of Elections. Many times voters have signaled me over to ask me which school board candidates are Republicans. Of course I did not and would not (even if I knew) give them that information. But the fact that citizens want to vote solely by party affiliation demonstrates how ill informed we are as a voting block. I’m urging the commissioners to not allow this partisan move. The voters should do their research before coming to the polls and cast their vote based on the candidate’s credentials and commitment to serve the public."