Local officials split on Governor’s call for appointed school board

Published 4:13 pm Thursday, June 13, 2019

MONTGOMERY — Local elected officials are split between Gov. Kay Ivey’s recent push to abolish elected school board members at the state level.

This past week Ivey urged voters to approve an upcoming bill to replace elected members with an appointed commission.

“As a former teacher, I recognize that strong leadership and a strong plan are necessary components to improving our education system,” Ivey said in a statement.

Email newsletter signup

The Alabama Legislature did approve a bill that would give the voters the chance to voice their opinion on the matter in the March 3, 2020 election — the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primaries.

The proposal says the governor “shall ensure” that the commission membership reflects the geographical, gender and racial diversity of the public-school enrollment.

Ivey on Monday signed related legislation that said the governor must consult with minority legislative caucuses when appointing minority commission members.

Commission members would serve six-year staggered terms, according to the bill.

Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, supports the constitutional amendment, saying people should have the right to vote on it.

She said after investigating the matter herself, she found that many state board members have neglected to speak to constituents who are not in their district.

“That is the problem that we have to today,” Wood said. “No one seems to take responsibility.”

She said the state needs somebody at the state level to move the state forward.

“We need something to say ‘We were 49th in education in 2019 and in 2022, we are going to 45th and in 2030, we are going to be 20th,’” Wood said. “We need someone that has the responsibility that we are doing something better in the state and right now, we don’t have that.”

Chambers County Superintendent Dr. Kelli Hodge is on the opposite side of the fence, saying that with appointments come allegiances to the people who appoint them rather than to the people they are supposed to represent.

“Voting is a privilege, and I really cannot think of a situation where I currently think it is best to take away the people’s right to vote,” she said.

She said education experts should be involved with making educational policy decisions, but she thinks legislators need to work with educators more often when making decisions about education.

“The state school board already very much includes educators in the decision for which they are making,” Hodge said.

Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Wedowee, said he isn’t in favor of the bill either because he doesn’t like the idea of taking away people’s right to vote.

“The people deserve the right to elect the school board,” he said. “It gives them control over their children’s education, and it gives them the right to determine over who sits on the board that is over the education system of the state.”

He didn’t vote for the bill allowing the public to vote because he is opposed to the idea itself, he said.

According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, as of this past  year, Alabama was one of seven states with an elected board.