Calendar options on elections divide county school board

Nathan Baker • Jan 10, 2014 at 11:07 AM

On their second attempt to approve a slate of calendars for the 2014-15 school year, the Washington County Board of Education tallied a split vote Thursday night, differing mainly on the prospect of attending school on Election Day.

At last month’s meeting, the board sent two proposed calendars back to the Calendar Committee upon concerns that hosting polling places at seven district schools during the Aug. 7 state primary and county general elections while school is in session could constitute a security risk.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board considered the two calendars originally presented and a new one that pushed the first student day to Aug. 11, but cut three days from the district’s weeklong fall break.

The sticking point with some members was that, with the three calendar options now headed for a vote by the teachers as required by board policy, the board was delegating the important safety decision to a staff vote.

“My problem with that is that we’re putting the accountability on the teachers of whether we’re going to have school on Election Day or not when it’s our responsibility,” board member Todd Ganger said. “That’s my problem.”

Board member Clarence Mabe agreed, saying if the board deemed a proposition a safety concern, it shouldn’t be included as a possibility for a vote.

“If it’s bad for one of them, it should be bad for all of them,” he said. “I don’t think the teachers should be put into the situation to make a safety call.”

The board discussed and ultimately decided to ask district Supervisor Ron Dykes to inquire about asking the county election commission to remove the polling places from the schools, but Chairman Chad Williams said it would go against the district’s mission to make schools community centers.

“One of the things that we always touted about K-8 was the schools being the center of the community, and one of the most important times is during elections,” he said. “I don’t want to remove voting from the schools, I think it keeps the schools the center of those communities.”

Even with the three calendar options, the seven schools in question will play host to at least one election in the voting heavy year.

While the new option made consideration for the Election Day in August, all three calendars still include a student day Nov. 4, when voting for state and federal elections will be held.

After much debate, the members voted 6-3 to send the three calendars to the staff for consideration and 5-4 to direct Dykes to explore options with the election commission to move polling places, which Dykes said would likely be impossible this year.

After the teachers’ vote, the calendar they approve will come back before the school board for an up or down vote.

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