The Caldwell County commissioners want to end the current nonpartisan nature of races for seats on the Caldwell County Board of Education.
A resolution the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners approved Monday night asks the North Carolina General Assembly to pass a local act to make the county’s school board elections partisan, which means requiring all future candidates to appear on the ballot as a member of a political party.
“We believe candidates become members of political parties because the party represents the essential views of the candidate toward government and toward public education,” the resolution read. “We support transitioning to partisan Board of Education elections because it will be an effective way to bring more of the electorate into the process, and will increase voter awareness about the candidates.”
Candidates wishing to run without a party affiliation could not appear on the ballot unless they gather signatures from at least 4% of the county’s registered voters, according to state law.
The resolution was suggested by Commissioner Donnie Potter, who said he had been approached by multiple people this year asking why Caldwell school board candidates didn’t list their party.
“I actually thought that all school board races were nonpartisan statewide until people started asking and I started digging into it,” he said.
Currently, 39 of the state’s 114 school districts have partisan elections for the school board. That is up from just 14 in 2010, according to data from the Education Week Research Center.
“I personally feel like people need to know who they’re voting for,” Potter said. “I think it’s just another small way to educate the public, and I think people want to know, and so they ought to know.”
But Potter also said he recognizes that partisan politics have created a shift in the way people interact with one another, sometimes in a negative way.
“I know guys who have lost their best friends because they disagree politically,” he said.
He said that growing partisan discord is starting to drown out the majority of Americans, who he thinks tend to be more moderate. He acknowledged the apparent contradiction in what he was saying, and he said it’s a part of holding office.
“If you ask Donnie Potter personally, I don’t care either way,” he said. “But when you have people coming to you all the time asking you about (how to change the way candidates file), then I think the motivation to change is that voice of the people. People want to know and they want to know what platform somebody is affiliated with.”
Before the resolution was drafted, Potter reached out to members of the current school board and asked their opinion. He said that two, Duane Knight and Darrell Pennell, said that they would prefer elections to remain as they are, but the other five were open to the idea.
At Monday’s meeting, two members of the public spoke against the resolution.
Amanda Bregel, who teaches English at Caldwell Early College High School and is the president of the Caldwell County chapter of the NAACP, said she doesn’t believe partisan politics have a place in the school system.
Bregel, who ran in 2018 as a Democratic candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives, admitted to her own personal party allegiance but said that she believes it’s her and her colleagues’ duty to leave personal opinions outside of the classroom.
“The front door of my classroom says, ‘Amanda Bregel — English.’ I am not a Democratic teacher, I am not a Republican teacher, I am just a teacher,” she said. Teachers “don’t focus on politics… we focus on what’s best for the kids, and that’s how our school board members should be, too.”
Barbara Kirby of Hudson said that the resolution wasn’t publicized enough for a decision that would affect so many people.
“Making school board elections partisan is an issue that a lot of people in the county likely have an opinion about,” she said. “So slipping it into the consent agenda as the last item at the last minute is cowardly and reprehensible.”
At most public meetings, the consent agenda is adopted as a unit and contains routine items requiring action from the board but not triggering much discussion. The board did not discuss the resolution in detail Monday night. The resolution was not read aloud but can be viewed in full in the Nov. 16 meeting agenda packet, which can be found at www.caldwellcountync.org/administration/meeting-agendas.
Board chair Randy Church said that the decision to put the issue on the consent agenda was one of expediency because there were two public hearings scheduled that night and the board wasn’t sure how long they would last.
“It was just a resolution that we’ve adopted to send over to the state for them to have consideration,” he said. “It’s not a done deal.”
To make a change to specific local elections, a member of the General Assembly has to introduce a bill, said Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina School Board Association. If the bill becomes law, it will be considered a local bill and will affect only the specific county or counties mentioned. The governor does not have the ability to veto a local bill unless it affects more than 15 counties.
Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.