Most of North Carolina’s local school boards are elected without any party labels attached to candidate’s names. But state lawmakers are now considering bills that would make elections for five school boards partisan. It’s something of a trend.
Barry Gold first heard about a move to make elections for the Rutherford County School Board partisan from someone in Raleigh.
"I think that the first reaction I had was just puzzlement," says Gold.
After all, he’s the chairman of the school board and had never heard anyone raise this concern.
"The folks that I talked to in Rutherford County said, 'We don’t want it to be partisan. We just want you to focus on children. We want you to focus on education. We want you to focus on the policy and getting good administrators in place and not dealing with political issues.'"
There are seventeen school boards in North Carolina that have partisan elections. That number could increase to 22 if the Senate approves three bills already passed by the House. Those measures call for partisan elections in Rutherford, Cherokee, Clay, Stanly, and Rockingham counties.
"We have seen more bills in recent years to make school board election partisan and we do not get involved in those bills," says Leanne Winner with the North Carolina School Boards Association.
The group did take a stand against a couple of bills that called for partisan school board elections in all of the state’s school districts. Those measures appear dead for now. All of these bills this year have been pushed by Republicans.
Representative Bert Jones sponsored Rockingham County’s bill. He said in a statement partisan labels on the ballot give voters more information about the candidates, especially in races like school board that are often packed. That change would make it harder for the board’s unaffiliated members to run. They’d have to join a party to have automatic ballot access or collect a required number of signatures.
As for Rutherford County, Representative Mike Hager said partisan elections help to increase public attention on education. He asked who wouldn’t want that.
For one, the county’s own Republican-led school board that passed a resolution against the bill.