Petition for elected county school board begins to circulate

Published 12:23 pm Thursday, February 24, 2022

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Beginning to circulate in Southampton County is a petition calling for a referendum on the November ballot that would allow voters to change how the Southampton County School Board is selected.

Mandy Hall, who is helping to promote the petition, shared the question being asked of qualified voters in the county: “Shall the method of selecting the school board be changed from appointment by the School Board Selection Commission to direct election by the voters?”

The current selection method involves a circuit court judge appointing three people who comprise the School Board Selection Commission, and that commission selects the school board members.

For the petition to successfully put the question on the ballot, it must have signatures from 10% of the registered voters in the county by late July. This would translate to about 1,200 signatures.

“Our goal is probably closer to 1,500 to account for any illegible signatures or non-valid signatures that we happen to pick up,” Hall said.

She said she received the first signature Feb. 9.

“This is very early in the dissemination of ballots for our circulators,” Hall said.

Hall and Tony Clark, who is contributing to the petition effort, shared thoughts on what is motivating the petition, stating that they have observed that this is a broad community concern rather than the project of one or two individuals. 

“Parents and taxpayers, in general, are simply fed up by the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability that this school board seems to portray,” Clark said. “Taxpayers and parents deserve to have more of a say in the way that their children are educated and the decisions that are made regarding their health and safety, and this petition seeks to give control of our public schools back to the people that fund them and the parents and the children that attend them.”

Clark noted that the School Board Selection Commission is accountable to only the circuit court judge, and the judge is accountable to the General Assembly and the Courts of Justice Committee.

Hall said, “We need to implement the democratic process at the local level in our schools so that we can introduce accessibility and accountability and equity in the position of school board member.”

She later noted that “a lot of the registered voters that I have talked to agree that we need to choose who represents us and who becomes the leaders of the institution that’s most influential to the future of our county.”

Both Hall and Clark affirmed that the petition effort is not designed to target any one school board member.

“In fact, it’s not designed to target school board members at all,” Clark said. “All we’re seeking to do is bring accountability to the school board by holding them accountable to the taxpayers and the parents. If we were to reelect every member of the school board, then so be it, but the proper process would be in place for accountability and transparency.”

Hall said, “We need to introduce accountability just like other entities in charge of overseeing budgets, ensuring adequate progress and making decisions that affect the well-being and future of our county. … I really feel like the current method does not encourage participation in the process from people who really would like to be involved in the school system. There’s not any particular target whatsoever, but there are (school board) positions that haven’t seen a new face in decades.”

Hall highlighted that the petition effort has a Facebook page called “SoCo Votes – Elect Our School Board.”