Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Commission to consider adding more seats to BOE

By Brad Hicks | Erwin Bureau Chief | Johnson City Press
A split vote among members of the Unicoi County Board of Education on Jan. 8 resulted in the non-renewal of Director of Schools Denise Brown’s contract.
Later this month, the Unicoi County Commission could take the first step to make that kind of split unlikely in the future.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch recently said that a resolution requesting a private act will be up for the county commission’s consideration at its Jan. 26 meeting. Lynch said this private act, if passed by the Tennessee legislature, would allow the county to add members to the Board of Education, taking that board from an even number of members to an odd number.
Lynch said he has already spoken with State Sen. Rusty Crowe regarding the matter, and Crowe advised the county mayor that if the resolution requesting the private act is approved by the county commission, it would then have to be approved by both the state Senate and Tennessee House of Representatives. Lynch said Crowe also told him if the county provides him with the approved resolution soon, the state legislature may be able to consider it during this legislative session.
“There won’t be a problem, I don’t think, with that,” Lynch said.
At its Jan. 8 meeting, the six-member Unicoi County Board of Education voted 3-3 to approve the renewal of Brown’s contract. This measure required a majority vote from the board, meaning at least four members would have had to approve the contract renewal for its passage. Lynch said the 3-3 split was essentially the equivalent of a “no” vote.
Each of the county’s three districts is represented by two members on the school board and three members on the Unicoi County Commission. Lynch said he would like to see the school board expanded to nine members to match the county commission, with three members representing each of the county’s districts.
Before last week’s school board meeting, some county officials, including Lynch, began looking into what would need to be done to increase the total number of members on the Board of Education.
“Actually, when this thing first came down, I started talking to the county attorney about it, and I think that will have the support from the commissioners to do it,” Lynch said.
Lynch said he is not yet completely sure what the next step in the process would be if the private act is approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, but he said he believes the act would be brought before the Unicoi County Commission for ratification. Because of this, Lynch said it could be several months before the county again acts on the private act.
If the county commission ratifies the private act, county voters could decide the new school board members as soon as the county’s election.
“I would hope that we just put it on the next election,” Lynch said.
The next election is in 2016. Four-year terms on the Unicoi County Board of Education are staggered, and the two seats representing the county’s second district would be up for grabs in next year’s election, with first and third district representatives to be decided in 2018. Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey the ratified resolution could contain language that another second-district seat be added to the 2016 ballot, with one seat added to the ballot for first and third district voters.
“That would, in effect, move it immediately into a nine-member board, with those two districts having a representative just for a two-year term, and then it would go back to the regular schedule in 2018,” Bailey said.
“Technically, what would happen if we go that route, there would be three school board seats in the second district and then there would be one school board seat each in the first and third districts,” Lynch said of the 2016 election.
Adding one school board member from each of the county’s districts would be an easier process than simply adding one additional member to bring the total to seven, Lynch said. Bailey said for election purposes, school board district lines currently match those of the county commission, and she said an additional school board representative from each district would avert any equal representation concerns.
“If we went with seven (school board members), then the election commission would have to draw school districts, and I don’t know how that could even happen,” Lynch said. “It would cause the election commission a lot of trouble if we go with seven, I think, so nine would be easier and we could stay within the parameters of the county commission.”
Bailey also said the process of getting these new seats on the ballot will be easier if the state legislature acts on a county commission-approved resolution during this legislative session. If the matter is pushed back to the legislature’s 2016 session, the process would become more challenging as the qualifying deadline for school board candidates running next year is the first Tuesday in April 2016.
“It just puts everything on a bit of a tighter schedule if things don’t happen in the 2015 legislative term,” Bailey said.
Lynch noted there have been past instances in which the nine-member county commission has split its vote on measures in cases where members have been absent or abstained from voting. However, he said he feels increasing the school board to an odd number of members will help prevent divisions on that panel. Lynch also reiterated that if the necessary steps to expand the school board go through, he would like to see these new members elected by county voters.
“I hope we get away from having to appoint anybody,” Lynch said. “It’s been this way for so long now, and the major contract has already been voted on, so I don’t see a real need to hurry with it to the point that we would actually appoint people. I think it should go to the people to be elected.”