It has taken five months, but the Columbia County Board of Education finally agreed Tuesday night on the structure of a task force to study the issue of having an at-large chairman.
There will be 22 members on the proposed task force, including former school superintendent Don Thornhill, who was appointed to head the study.
Each of the five education board members and each of the 12 school councils will get an appointment to the task force. The superintendent's office also will get one appointment and has asked former State Rep. Bill Jackson to serve on the task force as well as appoint one member. If Jackson can't serve, then the legislative delegation will be asked to fill his slot and his appointment on the task force.
"I think this is a good way to get out into the county and appoint some citizens to this task force," School Board Chairman Wayne Bridges said.
In a straw poll on the Aug. 20 ballot, Republican voters overwhelmingly favored having an an at-large-elected school board chairman.
Since then, School Board Attorney William Fleming has researched the legality of changing the board's structure. While more board members can be added, the at-large chairman would not have any more power than any other board member, he said.
"Every single board member has to have equal power unless there is a change to the state constitution," Fleming said. "It's not like a municipality where you can have any form of government you want to."
Thornhill said there are 16 systems out of 180 in the statethat have at-large-elected chairmen.
"It is not a simple issue," Thornhill said. "You cannot talk about one aspect of the board's structure without affecting all the other aspects of the board. When you talk about having a county-wide elected chairman, it has a ripple effect."
Thornhill said the board's next decision will be to charge the task force with its mission.
"Whatever changes are recommended, the question of utmost importance is will those changes create a better learning environment and a better delivery of educational services for our children," Thornhill said. "If we can't say yes, then it's just an exercise."
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