A bill in the Georgia Legislature could greatly change the way Columbia
County's school board operates - yet school board members took a pass when
asked for input.
Consequently, they have no one but themselves to blame if they don't like
A year and a half ago, voters in the county's Republican primary
overwhelmingly said "yes" when asked, "Are you in favor of having the
chairman of the Columbia County Board of Education elected by a county-wide
The question, appearing on the same ballot as the first at-large election
for the county's Commission chairman, took on a life of its own. The
county's legislative delegation asked the school board to study the issue,
and eventually it did.
The school system's task force rejected popular election of the chairman in
favor of keeping the current system, in which school trustees select one of
their own members to serve as chairman.
Even so, the study group endorsed taking the question to all voters. "The
task force doesn't have a problem with the people making a decision on this"
as long as the question is fair, said former School Superintendent Don
Thornhill, the task force chairman.
At that time, then-Board Chairman Wayne Bridges told the task force
representatives in a public forum that "if this is something we're going to
do, let's move forward. Let's don't beat around the bush about it."
Thornhill agreed, expressing confidence that if more voters saw the
information compiled by the task force, they'd keep the current system
Why, then, did school board members head for the tall grass when local
lawmakers asked for help writing a question to put before voters?
The answer? They're worried about what voters will do - and they're also
forgetting their own task force report. While the task force disliked the
idea of electing the chairman, it also made three other recommendations:
That all major education issues be initiated by the School Board, and be
placed before all voters ;
That the board study increasing the number of school board members; and,
That public hearings be held before major changes in the board's
structure, and that the results be ratified by voters.
It's clear, then, that the task force endorses the idea of giving properly
educated voters the ability to voice their opinion at the polls.
Trustees have known all along that the legislative delegation intended to
bring the issue back to all the voters. Local lawmakers extended a
tremendous courtesy to trustees by allowing them to write the question;
rejecting the opportunity is a slap in the face to the delegation, and a
sign of deep distrust of the county's voters.
Fortunately for those voters, the trustees' refusal to play doesn't mean the
game is over. "We're going to have a question," says state Rep. Ben Harbin,
R-Evans. "The people are going to make the ultimate decision on this. ... If
they say 'yes,' we're going to put in a county chairmanship for the school
Having squandered the opportunity for input on that question, trustees now
have no leverage if they don't like the way it's asked. And like it or not,
they're going to have to live with the answer.
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