March 18, 2013
The function and stated mission of the Gwinnett County School Board is “to pursue excellence in academic knowledge, skills, and behavior for each student, resulting in measured improvement against local, national, and world-class standards.” However, Gwinnett County still elects their school board members in highly prejudicial partisan races. In a county that has more than 50% registered Republicans we are automatically eliminating nearly half of the population of potentially qualified candidates.
If the mission of the school board is to truly pursue excellence for our children, the elections should not heavily favor one party, or any party. These elections need to be non-partisan. Currently, the two parties, through their committee-person conventions in the spring, basically control access to the ballot. It is cumbersome for Independents to get on the ballot, and virtually impossible for them to be elected. Thus school boards are deprived of the talents of Republicans and Democrats who do not pass their party’s scrutiny, and of the 20% of potential board members who are not Republicans or Democrats. There is no good reason to disqualify great candidates because they identify politically with the Democrats or Libertarians. We need a system that finds and elects the most qualified individuals to help lead our kids.
The Georgia School Board Association's fiscal year 2013 legislative priorities supports legislation calling for the non-partisan election of local school board members and 107 of the 180 public school systems in Georgia have board members elected in nonpartisan elections, or 58 percent of them. Most states require that school boards be elected in nonpartisan elections. In Georgia, however, school systems started with partisan boards, but were given the option to change to nonpartisan elections.
According to state law, (OCGA section 20-2-56), "the General Assembly may provide by local law for the election in nonpartisan elections of candidates to fill the offices of members of boards of education."
The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia also supports this change. School boards should be about education and not politics. If they are doing what they are supposed to be doing on the board, they aren't Republicans or Democrats. They are supposed to be focusing on academic improvement for all students.
Hopefully Gwinnett County will join the majority of Georgia Counties who have already seen the light and are looking for the best candidates for school board instead of the best politicians. It is time to make the school board about the kids, the education, and the advancement of our county instead of the advancement of a political party.