Single member district elections for the County School Board may not happen after all.
The County School Board’s attorney, Taylor Brooks, said single member district elections were an option for the Board when it went to district voting in 2015. But he said the actual districts were never set up to follow the guidelines for single member district voting.
Since that didn’t happen, he said, you must go back to the "default mechanism" in the Board’s district election enabling law. That method is just what they’re doing: the Board members must reside within the districts they represent but they are elected countywide.
Dr. Cindy Wigley said she too feels keeping the current way of electing Board members is critical.
A little review is probably in order to how we got to this point. Concerned that one of the 4 campuses in the county system might not have representation, the Board went to district elections in 2015. 4 of the 5 Board members were required to live in the districts they represented, either DAR, Brindlee, Douglas or Asbury, with one “at large” member from the school district countywide.
“The local statute said the 4 members shall be residents of one of each of the 4 districts,” Brooks said, “and elected by the qualified electors of Marshall County.”
Brooks said he was not the Board’s attorney at the time the local law was passed. And he said it was confusing as to what the Board at that time was trying to do.
Recently, Marshall County Democratic chairwoman Susan McKenney said she felt the way the Board was electing members did not follow the law. And Probate Judge Andrea LeCroy said it looked to her like the law required single member elections as McKenney had argued.
But in order to have single member district voting, Brooks countered, the federal “one person, one vote” rule requires the districts to be roughly equal in population. The district map the School Board approved is the same map as the County Commission district map.
The Commission district map includes both city and county residents since both vote for the County Commission. But only people in rural Marshall County vote in County School Board races.
“I haven’t looked at it in-depth, but given the population of the cities, there’s no way the district map could meet the one man, one vote requirement once the city voters are excluded,” Brooks said.
While the law allows single member districts, it doesn’t require it, he argued.
“The default provision is to elect board members who must live within certain districts and are voted on by the electors of the Marshall County School District,” Brooks said.
Dr. Wigley issued this statement concerning the situation:
"I strongly support the continuation of keeping the vote with the people. Changing the vote to single member districts would take away a citizen’s right to vote for three of the five board members. Citizens would only be voting for their district member and the at-large member. The current method allows for citizens to vote for all five members, while having representation within their district.
"Unlike the County Commission, which has separate district budgets, the Marshall County School System has one consolidated budget serving the four districts of Marshall County Schools. Board members make decisions which affect students from all four districts of the school system.
"From a board member campaign standpoint, it would be easier for members to only campaign within their district. However, our focus should remain on what is right for our students, not for adults.
"The documents required by statute were filed with the Probate Judge in 2015. Clearly, the intent of the Board was to assign a representative to each district and assign a member to the at large position. Had the intent been to change the vote to a single member district, a new map would have been developed with the purpose of removing the city limits of Albertville, Arab, Boaz, and Guntersville; thus, aligning the district with the 2% population rule of the statute."