MOCKSVILLE — Several members of the Davie County Board of Education blasted a new law that will change the way they are voted into office, questioning how partisan elections will help students and the motives of Sen. Andrew Brock, who pushed the legislation through the General Assembly.
“It’s sad,” board member Clint Junker said. “I just don’t think there’s any room for it. We have so much in common living in this county, living in this community, than a having a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ at the end of our name. At the national level, even at the state level, I could see that. We don’t know who’s running … but I can’t see what this is trying to solve.”
The new law, ratified May 26, means that for the first time since at least 1967, candidates for the school board will need to align themselves with a political party or collect a percentage of signatures from registered voters to run as an unaffiliated candidate.
Brock has not responded to inquiries seeking comment.
He told the Statesville Record & Landmark two weeks ago that he included Davie County — at the request of the Davie County Republican Party — in a bill that makes school board elections partisan in three other counties. Davie County was included on the third and final reading of the bill, unbeknown to five of the seven school board members and Superintendent Darrin Hartness.
The surprise element did not sit well with several of the board members.
At the first meeting of the board since the law was ratified, board Chairman Chad Fuller said he first heard about Brock’s amendment an hour before the law was ratified May 26.
Steve Ridenhour, a school board member and president of the Davie County Republican Party, confirmed to the board that the county Republican Party had voted unanimously at its convention in March for a resolution asking local legislators to back such a move. Ridenhour and Paul Drechsler, also a school board member, voted in favor of the resolution at the convention.
Fuller said he was disturbed when he heard about that.
“OK, that’s the first I’ve heard about that,” Fuller said. “I guess from my perspective it would have been nice for this board to have at least (had a chance) to consider this. I guess we need to have a conversation with Sen. Brock. To include Davie on a bill, it would have been nice for this body to have some comment on it.”
School board member Carol Livengood said the move shows a lack of transparency and runs counter to a Republican tenet.
“As members of the Republican Party, we are not for state or federal mandates,” she said. “We feel like local government is where the voices need to be heard. To me, this is exactly the opposite of that. This is Raleigh, not Washington, telling us how we are going to operate this board of education in Davie County, and I’m very disappointed.”
The first election covered under the law will be the May 2016 primary.
In a briefing at the meeting, Jill Wilson, the attorney for the school board, said the new law will require candidates to declare their political affiliation when they file for election, beginning in February 2016. They must be a member of that party for at least 90 days.
Four seats — those held by Livengood, Wendy Horne, Ridenhour and Drechsler — will be open. The top four vote-getters will move onto the general election.
School board terms will stretch to December of the election year. In previous years, school board members began their terms in July.
Unaffiliated candidates will need the signatures of 4 percent of the county’s registered voters to be placed on the ballot in the general election, according to Tabatha Parrish, the director of the county’s board of elections.
Another change, Wilson said, is the way that board vacancies are filled. Previously, the board of education chose the replacements. That will remain the case if the departing board member is unaffiliated.
Under the new law, the executive committee of the departing member’s political party will make a recommendation that the board of education must accept.
In Davie County, the leadership of the Republican Party is primarily made up of individuals — including Ridenhour and Drechsler — who opposed the recent $54.5 million bond referendum to build a new high school.
Parrish said the new law will have minimal costs because the elections will be held during regularly scheduled elections.