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County sends partisan School Board election resolution to delegation

Henderson County commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to adopt a resolution urging the state Legislature to change the county School Board elections from nonpartisan to partisan, brushing aside the pleas of 15 speakers to keep the election free of party labels.

The resolution goes on to the three members of the county's delegation in the General Assembly — all Republicans — where the prospects for a bill making the change would appear to be solid.

“School Board issues are not partisan issues," Jane Pulling, a Saluda resident and retired school superintendent told commissioners. "Politics should have nothing to do with School Board decisions, which should be based solely on what is best for children. Having an R, D or I beside a candidate’s name tells nothing about the candidate’s qualifications for the job.”

Supporters of the change said a party label is relevant.

“Party affiliation is very valuable because it’s highly correlated with issues that are important" to voters, Brett Callaway said. "Hiding important information from citizens is not how a free society remains free. Voters should have good, relevant information on which to make their decision."

Commissioners largely echoed that.

Daniel Andreotta, who first offered the resolution last month, defended the move to identify candidates by party.

"If anybody has a right to know that I believe it’s parents of children whom those policies ultimately will make their way to that child’s classroom one day," he said. "And so again, they don’t have to factor it in if they don’t want to. And a party affiliation doesn’t indicate the presence or the lack of qualifications. Certainly still do all of your due diligence, no doubt about it."

While it's true that most of what the School Board acts on is nonpartisan, Michael Edney said, voters would benefit from knowing candidates' party affiliation because it signifies their values.

“Do you want a School Board that is fiscally conservative with your tax dollars? I would say yeah. If you don’t know anything else and cannot find out anything else, party affiliation gives you some guidance in that regard,” he said.

Bill Lapsley said because of national politics, local School Boards have already come under the spell of partisanship.

"Parents care enormously about the kids, we all know that. And a lot of parents vote," he said. "So we shouldn’t be surprised that education matters in Henderson County politics. Cultural and societal issues intermixed with public school matters have been in the forefront of state and local elections for years. So it’s no surprise to me that we are faced with this in our hometown. It is a fantasy to believe that just because you don’t designate your political parties, that somehow political parties are not involved in these races.”

Chairwoman Rebecca McCall pointed out that the 2022 School Board election was politicized by both parties. Among the four Republicans on the ballot, Republican Party leaders "chose three names to support," she said. (There were also four unaffiliated candidates and one Democrat on the ballot.) "The Democrat Party chose one name to support. I think they had a slogan 'one and done.'"

"I have six grandchildren in the current school system," she said. "We care deeply about the school system. We are supportive of our school system, and we would not do anything to jeopardize how the school system is run."