School board redistricting bill rouses heated response

A bill that would redistrict the Cherokee County Board of Education election posts and cut out its chair members has drawn fire by the system’s accrediting agency – prompting pressure on lawmakers to revise the plan.

Although House Bill 978 passed through the Georgia General Assembly unanimously, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), said in a statement last Wednesday that he plans to submit a modified redistricting bill March 5 to address concerns about the effects of HB 978, which some say could potentially harm how students are taught.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting body for the school district, recently called the legislation highly irregular and warned that the system could be irreparably harmed if voters were given the opportunity to vote for the board’s chair – even risking its capacity to meet accreditation requirements, according to a SACS letter sent to Cherokee County Board of Education Chair Mike Chapman.

The Cherokee County Board of Education. Photo courtesy their website.

“The State of Georgia should not enact legislation that bypasses or usurps the local control of Boards of Education,” according to the SACS letter. “There is no substitute for the impact that an effective Board of Education can have on the success of a school system.”

Meanwhile, Chapman has called for Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill, which would remove Chapman and vice chair Janet Read from their posts on the school board by merging their districts with others under the new maps.

In a letter addressed to the governor last week, Chapman warned that the bill represented a threat to local school board governance and could have an extremely negative impact on the overall quality of the school system.

Read said that opening the chairperson position up to a vote risked the election of someone without the experience necessary to run the district effectively or with an interest in mind that would conflict with his or her job.

“I could not imagine someone coming right off the street – because you’re talking about the education of 38,000 students,” Read said. “I think the board members themselves have the better handle on who is really qualified. In this model, the voters could elect someone that had never even attended a school board meeting.”

She said the district was specially targeted following its negative review of a charter school last year and that the board has expected a backlash from the county’s legislative delegation as a result of the stance for some time.

“I think that Mr. Chapman and I were targeted because we’ve been two of the vocal ones and because our terms were up,” Read said. “So this was not a surprise to me. This was really kind of expected.”


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