By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
A legislative proposal, Senate Bill No. 2141, that would require all school board members in Mississippi to be elected in a nonpartisan election, was voted out of the Senate Education Committee in Jackson on Tuesday by voice vote, said State Sen. Tony Smith, R-Picayune, in an interview with the Picayune Item on Wednesday. Smith authored the bill and is a member of the Senate Education Committee.
The bill now goes on the Senate calendar by Feb. 15 to be considered on the floor of the Senate.
Smith said that having school board members elected would place them closer to the electorate and would give the average citizen who votes more influence with school board members who have to answer to the taxpayer every four years. “Appointed school board members are farther away from the electors,” said Smith, “and less influenced by them.”
Smith, who owns Stonewalls barbecue restaurant, is a former member of the Picayune school board, and was elected from the rural Nicholson district south of Picayune. He resigned from the school board after winning the State Senate seat for District 47, of which about half of Pearl River County is a part.
The bill, if approved by the State Legislature, would have an impact on Pearl River County.
Three Picayune school board members are appointed by the City Council and two are elected by voters in rural districts outside the city limits. Picayune operates what is called a separate municipal school district, with two rural districts being represented on the board.
In Poplarville, all five school board members are appointed, three by supervisors and two by the Poplarville Board of Aldermen. In the Pearl River County School District, all five board members are elected.
In another issue, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require all district superintendents in the state to be appointed. That bill also would affect Pearl River County since the superintendent’s post in the Pearl River County School District is an elected post. Superintendents in Poplarville and Picayune are already selected by the school board.
Smith said he favors the appointment of superintendents because it gives the school board more leeway in selecting a more qualified school head administrator.
Smith said his bill, if passed, would take effect coinciding with the presidential election of 2016.
Smith’s bill mandates the change. There would be no exceptions.
School districts would be divided into five equal zones and candidates would run in nonpartisan races, without party primaries.
Usually, county school boards are elected, but city schools can be either all appointed or a mix, some appointed and some elected.
An amendment, added to Smith’s bill, by Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, would require school board members complete at least one year of college.
(Associated Press dispatches were used in compilation of this story.)