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Dare Ed Board votes to oppose partisan school elections

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Members criticize legislation sponsored by Rep. Boswell

At its March 14 meeting, the Dare County Board of Education unanimously rejected proposed legislation that would make local school board elections partisan, passing a resolution opposing two measures that would inject party affiliation into currently nonpartisan campaigns.

The board also voted 7-0 to send a letter to State Rep. Beverly Boswell asking to be removed from House Bill 265, which she sponsored. The measure calls for the Dare Board of Education, along the Beaufort, Hyde, Haywood, Yancy and Madison county school boards, to be elected on a partisan basis beginning in 2018.

The second measure, Senate Bill 94, would make elections of county boards of education partisan statewide that same year.

Also at the March 14 meeting, the school board honored the late Warren C. Judge III by naming the First Flight High School football field after him. Judge died in early November after more that two decades of public service that included 16 years on the Dare County Board of Commissioners and work as a longtime advocate for Dare County Schools.

Judge, a Democrat, died several days before the Nov. 8 election for the NC District 6 House seat which pitted him against Boswell, a Republican who had been serving her first term on the Dare Board of Commissioners. With Judge’s name still on the ballot and his wife Tess prepared to serve his term if he was elected, Boswell won in a relatively close vote.

The letter that the board of education voted to send to Boswell at the March 14 meeting states that it sees no benefit in altering the nonpartisan election process that has worked well for so many years.

“This tradition has served the students of Dare County very well,” the letter reads, “as members of the Board with varying political viewpoints have put partisanship aside and have been able to focus on what matters most – the education of our children.”

Board of Education member Mary Ellon Ballance said the proposed legislation was not in the best interest of the district’s children, staff or teachers. “Our board works very hard to bridge the relationship with the county board of commissioners. This could put that relationship in jeopardy. Everything about this screams no.”

Board member Margaret Lawler said in her more than 10 years on the board, members have never mentioned party affiliation. “It’s always been about what is best for the students.”

“And that’s where it needs to stay,” said Board member Charlotte White, agreeing. “We are the closest step to students and are in a much better place to be able to put students as our top priority.”

Board members also voiced concern that the new legislation would force school board candidates to participate in spring primaries and then the general election in November, meaning they’d attend their first school board meeting in January.

Superintendent Sue Burgess said this would exclude newly elected board members from important summer training and have them start their terms in the middle of the school year.

Board attorney Brian Shaw said there are at least 15 school boards in North Carolina that hold partisan elections. “It wouldn’t be the first time, but clearly those who have partisan elections are in the minority.”

“My sense,” Shaw said, “is that the Dare County Board of Education has a strong tradition, and while it may have very different political viewpoints, it’s never been introduced as Democrat or Republican. A partisan board may be fine, but why fix what isn’t broken.”

The board agreed to copy the letter and resolution to all the sponsors of each bill and immediately forward them to the Dare County Board of Commissioners.

When the meeting turned to honoring Warren Judge with the dedication of the football field, his wife Tess accepted the plaque that will be erected at the field.

“During his 16 years as a county commissioner,” Burgess said, “Warren advocated to secure $165 million in COPs funding to enable Dare County Schools to build four new school buildings and to make extensive renovations at five existing schools.”

She said Judge, as the board of commissioners’ educational liaison, attended almost every school board meeting for nearly five years.

“Outside the board room, Warren was a lifetime sports enthusiast, frequently seen supporting athletic events throughout the district,” she said. “He was practically a fixture at First Flight High School home football games. Warren will be greatly missed, but his contributions will be long remembered.”

Earlier in the day, the school board also named the First Flight High School auditorium after David E. Oaksmith, who was a teacher in the district for 14 years and a member of the Board of Education for 17 years.

The plaque honoring Oaksmith recognized his role in advancing a construction and renovation program in the district as well as his continuous and fervent support of the arts.

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Reporter, Outer Banks Sentinel

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