Though a task force's study opposes the concept of an at-large elected school board chairman, the group's members say they wouldn't object to people voting on it again.
They would prefer, however, to be allowed to educate voters first.
"We just want to be sure the public is educated so they know what they are voting on," said task force chairman Don Thornhill.
Fewer than 10 people showed up for a public forum Monday night in which some members of the 19-member task force defended their report, which concluded there would be no benefit to having an at-large elected chairman. Instead, the task force recommended further studying of increasing the size of the board from five to seven members.
"I think it is good to have this debate. It enhances in people's mind the importance of electing the school board. The best way to go from here is to write a different question, educate the public, talk to them and let them vote on this question," said state Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, chairman of the Senate Eduction Committee.
In a straw poll on the Aug. 20, 2002, Republican primary ballot, 85 percent of voters said they favored having an at-large elected school board chairman.
Thornhill said having an elected chairman would not change the powers of the chairman and would be futile.
"Whether selected by the board, elected by the people, or anointed, the chairman can have no greater powers than any other board member (constitutionally). Now they are appointed for one year. If they were elected it would be for four years. That's the only difference in the two situations," Thornhill said.
Thornhill said an at-large elected chairman might set up a power struggle between the board and superintendent, with the chairman assuming more authority than is granted by law.
"He might think, 'I'm elected by all the people,' and that carries more prestige. It creates an environment where someone who didn't understand the role and position could take that role and extend it, creating contention among the board and between the chairman and the superintendent," Thornhill said.
Having an at-large elected chairman likely would create the need for redistricting, with several options to consider: four districts with an at-large chairman; the same five districts with an at-large elected chairman, creating a six-member board; or six districts with an at-large chairman, creating a seven-member board.
Andy Ezell, a former school board candidate, was the lone dissenter on the task force. But he agreed with the task force's finding that the issue is one that needs to be put before the public to be debated and studied.
"The fact of the matter is, the genie is out of the bottle and we've got to answer the question: Do the people want it?" he said.
Several at the forum contended the question on the ballot may have solicited a "yes" vote from people who were still upset that the right to elect a school superintendent had been taken away in 1992. Former Columbia County Commissioner Charles Allen said he was one of those.
"I'm one of those still mad I lost the opportunity to vote for Tommy Price as my superintendent," he said.
Though the task force's report concluded that having an at-large elected chairman would not improve the quality of education in the county, state Rep. Ben Harbin, R-Evans disagreed.
"Giving people two votes, rather than one vote out of the five, gives them more representation on that board," said Harbin, who was out of town during the forum. "If people have more say on that board, then they will be willing to do the things they need to do to improve education."
Only 17 of the state's 183 school system's have countywide elected chairmen.
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