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Letters: Partisan School Board Elections
Opposing County Commissioners' Recommendation
March 13, 2023

Diane Lemiuex writes in opposing partisan school board elections in Pamlico County. Those elections are currently non-partisan.

Dear Editor,

Our County Commissioners recently voted to request Keith Kidwell to write a bill for the NC House that would make the Pamlico County School Board elections partisan. His bill sped through the House in 11 working days. Norm Sanderson filed SB 286 in the Senate on March 8th.

Given that this issue could be very divisive, we are both surprised and disappointed that there was not an opportunity for community input. We understand that it was listed on the Nov. 21, 2022 agenda under Consent/ Correspondence Agenda, but that was hardly a robust effort to see what the community thought about it, given that most residents do not see the agenda. And if they had seen it, and attended the meeting, they would not have been allowed to speak, as they have restricted public comments at their 2nd meetings.

Out of 115 NC school boards, 43, or about 1/3, are now partisan. Ten years ago it was 1 out of every 10. In the 2023 legislature, nine more similar bills have been filed. Identifying political parties pushes board members to perform inside of a box instead of determining the best decision for each issue. Partisan school board elections also make it harder for Unaffiliated voters to be elected. 35% of our voters are unaffiliated.

Partisan school boards do not necessarily result in better performance. “In a 2018 study by backgroundchecks.org that used a combination of student performance (math and reading test scores), dropout rates, school funding and poverty rates to assess counties. In the top half of school systems ranked as best performing only 20 systems (35 percent) had partisan elections and all of the 15 worst performing school districts in the study were governed by partisan school boards.” (Henderson County 4 Seasons Politics)

Many residents of Pamlico County DO NOT WANT a partisan school board. We do not want our county to become a center for drama and culture wars. National and state political tribalism is not helpful at the local level. We want our school board members to be focused on their jobs and doing what is best for students. The best way to evaluate a school board candidate is to ask them what they think about each issue, instead of relying on the letter next to their name. Local boards should be models for focusing on local matters without inviting in additional distractions.

Our school board has done an admirable job focusing on the students and the schools. They have not gotten involved in culture wars that happen regularly in nearby counties that have partisan school boards. We have had highly diversified, qualified board members for many years, and good participation from candidates and voters. Why change what’s not broken?

It is bad enough that our county and our culture is already fraught with division. And yes, we understand that school board members come to the table with their own experiences and history. We do not need to permanently cement partisan politics into the structure of our school board.

I oppose this bill, which is being rushed through in record time without an attempt to gather broader input from the residents of Pamlico County. Decisions as important as these should require multiple meetings where the citizens of Pamlico County can express their views. For these reasons, I ask that the Commissioners reconsider their request to the NC General Assembly and retract their support for partisan school board elections in Pamlico County. If you agree with me, please contact your commissioner and senator.


Diane Lemieux
Arapahoe, NC
March 13, 2023

Related Links
House Bill 179 Introduced by Representative Keith Kidwell
Senate Bill 286 Introduced by Senator Norm Sanderson

Pamlico is a county where our votes on election day don’t always reflect our devotion to the people in our communities that need help. Our school board is, perhaps, not perfect, but they are responsible for the education of all children in the county who attend our public schools.  I have lived here for almost 25 years and supported both Republicans and Democrats for the school board. During most  of that time I was registered as unaffiliated. I want people who care about this county and its future to serve on the school board. I don’t want a political agenda to be even a small part of the selection process. The fiasco in Florida’s schools and colleges is the result of political parties trying to dictate to educators how to teach. We have wonderful people educating our children and they are doing a great job during a tough time.  Let’s not make their job harder.

At the same time as this issue is being considered, the band needs $10,000 of community support. Will that support be dependent upon the political affiliation of the school board or their political donors? I don’t know Jim Durham’s politics and  believe it’s not important if he cares as much about his students as he demonstrates every time I communicate with him. I will support the band because it’s important. Even if Jim and I disagree about every political issue.

Doug Sligh
Oriental, NC
March 14, 2023

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