Tennessee Legislature Considers Return to Elected School Directors

Nearly three decades ago, state lawmakers changed the way school directors are chosen in the state of Tennessee. Abandoning the process of electing school directors was part of a sweeping education reform act known as the Education Improvement Act of 1992. Changes were made to a wide variety of education policies including school fees, BEP funding, performance standards, and curriculum. Since the enactment of Public Chapter 535 (1992), school directors are appointed by local boards of education and not elected by popular vote. Tennessee lawmakers are proposing a return to elected school directors.

Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Representative Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) have introduced Senate Bill 1010 and House Bill 1228, respectively. Their proposal includes several checks and balances that set a high bar for qualification and provides cities and counties the option of having elected school directors, provided the legislative body approves a resolution by a 2/3 majority to present the question of elected directors to local voters by referendum. If the voters approve of elected school directors by a simple majority, the field is open for candidates to qualify for election to serve 4-year terms.

If voters reject elected school directors in a required referendum, appointed school directors will stand as is. A complete copy of the proposed legislation can be found here.

Other provisions of the elected school director bill would require candidates to meet certain qualifications, among those qualifications are a professional teaching license; a master’s degree in education administration, supervision, school finance, and transportation; and the applicant shall have 5 years of administrative experience.

Tenth District County Commissioner Marcus Reed addressing a group of citizens organized in support of elected school directors

A group of concerned Jefferson County citizens and elected officials recently held a meeting to organize support for the Bowling/Sherrell elected school director bill. A common theme discussed in the meeting was decentralizing administrative power, returning decisions to the tax paying electorate.

Eighth District Senator Frank Niceley has long supported a return to elected school directors.

Source: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, as well as a recognized artist and local businessman. He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband accessibility on the state level.