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Macon BOE to remain non-partisan

The Macon County Board of Education was unanimously opposed  to a partisan school board race. File photo The Macon County Board of Education was unanimously opposed to a partisan school board race. File photo

Despite the intention by some commissioners to make the school board race partisan in Macon County, it will remain non-partisan, in part due to an outpouring of opposition from both the public and members of the current school board. 

“Our goal is to do what is in the best interest of Macon County students,” said School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove. “That’s all we’re trying to do.” 

The Macon County Commission first considered a resolution in support of making the election for Board of Education a partisan race during its November meeting.

However, Macon County alone does not have the power to change the format of that election. The change would have to be made through the General Assembly. Therefore, the resolution requested the legislature establish that “henceforth the party affiliation of candidates for the Macon County Board of Education be identified on any/all primary and general election ballots.” 

In November, opponents to the plan cited heightened partisanship and division, as well as lack of input from the school board regarding the resolution as the main reasons to keep the school board elected on a non-partisan basis. While commissioners John Shearl, Paul Higdon and Danny Antoine all voiced support for the change, the commission decided to table the resolution until it could garner more input.

Just a few weeks later, the school board took up the issue at its November meeting and resolved to sign a resolution opposing the change from a non-partisan to partisan school board race.

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At the Macon County Commission’s December meeting, a delegation of school board members came to speak to the commission about their opposition, and still more members of the public spoke during public comment with the same position.

“Personally, I do oppose the resolution to make our school board a partisan race,” said Macon County resident Linda Tyler. “We will learn a lot more about the candidates’ views and ideas by talking to them or reading what they have to say about the school board and what they think should be done for our citizens here than by looking at a letter that follows their name.” 

“I’m against making the board of education a partisan office,” said former Franklin Mayor Bob Scott. “If you change it, it will inject party primaries into local school issues whereas now there may be none. Then you will have school board members acting as traditional partisan politicians rather than as apolitical citizens acting only in the interest of local schools, students and our community. There is the potential of political gridlock if you decide to push for a partisan board of education.”

In addition to heightened partisanship, several residents and commissioners wanted input from the board of education, all of whom came out opposed to the change. Chairman Jim Breedlove, Hillary Willkes and Diedre Breeden spoke to the board at the December meeting to explain their opposition and ask them not to sign the resolution.

“Because of the way this was presented, I felt like there was some more professional courtesy needed in terms of us discussing this, especially because it involves your board,” said Antoine.

While Antoine was originally in favor of the resolution in support of a partisan race for school board, he said that after hearing input from the public and the school board, he changed his mind.

“After listening to you guys, I’m definitely supportive of what you all have stated tonight,” Antoine said after listening to input from school board members at the December meeting. “My position has changed because of being able to hear your side of this.” 

Shearl remained in support of a partisan school board race, saying that politics is “in every breath that we take.” He said that the board took up the issue without input from the school board originally because the issue was beyond Macon County Schools and that the school board has “very limited power when it comes to how the school system actually operates.” 

The motion to terminate the resolution in support of a partisan school board race passed, 4-1, with Shearl being the lone dissenting vote.  

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