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House Education OKs resolution to put before the voters a constitutional amendment to make county school board races partisan

MORGANTOWN – After extended debate, the House Education Committee approved on Thursday a resolution to put to a constitutional amendment before the voters to make county board of education races partisan.

HJR 106, if passed by both houses of the Legislature and approved by the voters in November, would remove one sentence from the state Constitution that requires BOE races to be nonpartisan.

There was confusion, discussed at length, about a question raised by Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph. He wanted to know if the measure would require two BOE elections: one in May during the party primaries and one in November to choose the ultimate winners.

There was much back and forth, but Howard O’Cull, executive director of the School Board Association, settled it by saying the resolution would simply put the option before the voters. It would then come back to the voters to work out the details.

Under current law, he and others explained, it would be a sort of “jungle primary” where the top vote-getters won in the May election – when BOE candidates are chosen – regardless of party. However, the Legislature might decide to make it a two-step process as with other partisan elections.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the delegates, “Education should not be politicized.” That’s the reason BOE elections are not partisan. Boards are there for the betterment of the kids,

Also, he said he believes that federal employees are barred from running in partisan elections and this might cut off a supply of candidates.

Thompson asked one of the bill’s sponsors, Jordan Maynor, R-Raleigh, who also sits on the committee, why the resolution was introduced.

Maynor said that school boards craft policy and the public would be better served to know the member’s values and beliefs.

O’Cull said that a survey of county BOE members indicated they support nonpartisan membership. An R or a D by your name doesn’t mean you’ll vote a particular way on an issue. On the other hand, a party identification might bring unnecessary political pressures into board decisions and might in turn affect the work of the school superintendent.

He plans to post a couple studies regarding partisan BOE elections to the association’s website, he said.

Delegate Ric Griffith, D-Wayne, said some voters might vote against a good person simply because of party affiliation and incorrect assumptions about the person.

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, served 10 years on the Mon County school board. He said he was undecided about the resolution before the meeting but sees no harm in putting it before the voters.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, went a little farther. The current system isn’t broken, there’s no reason to do this and it’s bad policy. But he trusts the voters. “I have faith that they will look at this and make the right decision.”

The resolution passed in a voice vote and goes next to House Judiciary.

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