In the poll listed on both the Catoosa Democratic and Republican ballots, 54 percent, or 2,699 Republicans, said the elections should remain non-partisan, while 56 percent, or 479 Democrats, agreed.
“Democracy and reasonable people are still alive in Catoosa,” said state Rep. Mike Snow, D- Chickamauga.
Snow said he is strongly opposed to making school board members choose a political party.
“I think it’s a mighty stupid idea,” he said. “There are members of the Republican Party who want to destroy public schools in this county. Some people are cynical about public education, and that’s the greatest asset you have here. It’s probably one of the best school systems in the state.”
State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, said the poll results will have an effect on the future of the partisan school board movement.
“Nothing’s ever a dead issue, but it appears there is not enough local support to continue on that effort,” he said. “But if there is a grassroots movement on any local issue, then we have to pay attention to it.”
Local legislation sponsored last year by Mullis failed when state Rep. Ron Forster, R-Ringgold, refused to sign off on the bill to change the current non-partisan format. Forster said he was in favor of the change, but because of split opinions on the issue instead proposed a binding referendum. The referendum also failed to receive the required signatures of all four of Catoosa’s state legislators in order to be placed on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
“I believe we saw the majority of people are not interested in it,” Forster said. “As far as I’m concerned, right now it probably is a dead issue. We may be able to look at it again in a year or two.”
Jim Price, chair of the Catoosa Democratic Party, said he expected as many as 75 percent on both ballots to vote against partisan school boards.
“It was closer than I expected,” he said. “I realize the Republican leadership was anxious to get partisan school boards, but I didn’t think the parents would go for it. The school system is large and complex, and we need experts to run it without being under a partisan umbrella.”
Ricky Kittle, chair of the Catoosa Republican Party, said because the majority of the races in the primary were on the Republican ballot, there was a lot of party crossover voting.
He said the local Republican Party platform is that all elections should be partisan.
“I’m not sure if (the poll) was true and accurate,” he said.
Tom Dickson, who is running unopposed for District 6 this November, spent 34 years as a Whitfield County educator, including five as school superintendent. Whitfield County has a partisan school board.
“As a former educator, I tend to favor non-partisan elections,” he said. “My personal feeling is I was elected by the people to represent them, and if that’s what they want (non-partisan elections) then I will support that. My opinion is partisan politics don’t have a place in education.”
Catoosa school board member Chandler Peeples agrees with keeping party affiliation away from school system leadership.
“Additionally, a partisan school board forces the exclusion of members who are employed by the government,” he said. “One of our members (Chairman Don Dycus) presently would be prevented from serving for that reason, and he makes a significant contribution to the effectiveness of the board.”
Out of 114 school systems that reported to the Georgia School Boards Association, only 49 were partisan, including Walker, Whitfield and Dade counties.
Jay Neal, Republican candidate for Snow’s District 1 seat, said that if elected he is undecided if he would support another attempt to change the Catoosa Board of Education elections.
“The straw poll should carry a lot of weight,” he said. “The poll is very telling about what the people would like to see.”
Mullis said he still believes the partisan system is best for keeping the school board financially accountable.
“This would give the school board another line of responsibility,” he said. “They would have to answer to whatever philosophy they choose as far as a political party goes.