Editorial: Keep party politics off of RSS Board of Education

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 6, 2022

The proposed conversion of all local elections in the county to partisan will further tear at frayed threads that hold the Salisbury-Rowan community together.

Rowan Republicans have sent a resolution to state legislators asking for all local elections to become partisan. Most significantly, it would make all city and town council races as well as the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education partisan. The letters “R” and “D” will appear next to candidates’ names, which has not happened in recent history.

Democrats haven’t taken a formal stance, but they’ve actively endorsed candidates up and down the ballot and provided flyers to voters saying as much.

Just as district and superior court races shouldn’t be partisan — a change passed years ago — neither should municipal or school board elections.

Signaling to low-information voters which party someone affiliates with isn’t a strong enough reason to make the change. Neither is the fact that it’s already public information. If voters find partisan affiliation important, they can find it on the N.C. State Board of Elections website or by referring to endorsement pamphlets, which are likely to continue in perpetuity now that they’ve started in nonpartisan races.

The school board is particularly concerning because politics have no place in local school system governance and because a person’s political affiliation fails to make him or her more more qualified to make decisions about public education. A partisan race increases pre-existing possibilities candidates and voters will make decisions primarily on partisanship rather than experience and the issues at hand.

Republicans may be more inclined to support school choice, but that’s a matter for state legislators and other policy makers — not the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education. The RSS board’s responsibility includes providing the highest quality of education possible and hiring a superintendent. Those aren’t Republican or Democratic issues.

School closures amid COVID-19 as well as masks and quarantine policies have been the biggest issues for public education in the previous two years, but views among incumbent school board members haven’t broken down neatly along partisan lines. The board, for example, unanimously voted against mandatory masks last week.

In raw political terms, Democrats and unaffiliated voters should oppose the change because of the way school board members are elected — most members represent a district, but everyone in the county gets a vote. That means voters in Salisbury choose who represents southern Rowan County and vice versa. In a previous era, voters might be willing to cross party lines to vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate, but our bitterly divided moment brings with it issues that make that more difficult than ever. If Democrats are committed to partisan elections, they should also endorse changes that allow voters to only cast a ballot for their district’s candidate.

The county’s state legislators will be key decision-makers on this issue. Presumably, the change will be a local bill, which means legislators from elsewhere will turn to Rep. Harry Warren or Sen. Carl Ford to ask them, “What do local voters think about this?”

Unless the goal is to make the community more divided, partisan school board races are a bad idea.