VITAL POLICY – Commissioner Marcus Reed Proposes County Resolution for Voter Choice on Elected School Directors

Jefferson County Commissioner, Marcus Reed

Thirty years ago, the legislature enacted a package of education reforms called The Tennessee Education Improvement Act of 1992. Within that legislation, signed by then Democrat Governor Ned Ray McWherter, a provision of the act mandated that school directors be appointed by local school boards rather than be elected by the people. Liberals and the teacher’s union praised the move, while constitutional conservatives noted that the move disenfranchised voters. The effort to return to elected school directors started before the ink was dry on the governor’s signature.

Tennessee State Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) has been the point of the spear for several years in sponsoring legislation to return to elected school directors, an effort that started while he served as a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 1990’s. Senator Niceley voiced his renewed support for elected school directors at the Jefferson County Republican Mass Meeting in 2019. Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Representative Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) filed legislation on the issue in 2020. The Bowling/Sherrell proposed legislation would give local county commissions, or city councils, the option of putting the question of elected vs appointed school directors on a referendum election, giving voters a clear choice of how their school directors are seated. Placing that choice on the ballot would require a 2/3 majority of the applicable legislative body in a school district.

Jefferson County Republican Party made a formal resolution supporting the proposed legislation on October 11, 2021.

Commissioner Marcus Reed’s County resolution would, if enacted by county commission, support the proposed change in state law to give voters the choice between appointed vs elected school directors. Additionally, the resolution states that local voters deserve to have the choice of electing school directors, that appointed school directors concentrate political power to a simple majority of school board members, that voters are disenfranchised by appointed directors, and that non-elected school directors manage a substantial amount of taxpayer money.

In Jefferson County, the appointed director of schools manages over seventy-seven million dollars [$77,541,035.00] of public money, answering only to four of seven school board members. That is 64% of the current county budget managed by a person that is not directly accountable to the voters. The voters deserve to elect school directors if they so choose.” – Commissioner Marcus Reed (District 10).

Special interest groups have fought legislation to give voters a choice in selecting school directors by election; the 2022 legislative session will be another test. Reed’s resolution will be voted on by the Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday January 18th, 2022, at their Regular Quarterly Meeting.

VITAL POLICY – David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party. 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.