Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Letter the Watauga School Board Sent Opposing Sen. Hise's Bill To Gerrymander School Board Districts


At the Senate Rules Committee hearing Tuesday morning on S 912, Ralph Hise's scheme for changing both the Watauga County Commission and the Watauga County Board of Education -- gerrymandered into geographic districts that Hise came up with in the dead of night -- met with strong and unanimous pushback from current Watauga School Board members. The letter below was read into the record, and for the record, the Republican committee members heard but ignored it, voting immediately and without any discussion to approve the Hise bill and send it on to the Senate floor. The bill is not scheduled to go into effect for the School Board until the elections of 2026, but without successful legal action, the schools we know and love will be upended for the whim of a power-hungry state senator.

Dear Senator Rabon and members of the Rules and Operations Committee of the Senate,

The Watauga County Board of Education met this evening (June 17). During the "Board comments" section of our meeting each of the five members of our Board shared their thoughts about Senate Bill 912.

Each member of our Board, for various reasons, expressed opposition to the bill. Even though each of us on the Watauga County Board of Education was elected through a nonpartisan process, we thought it would be helpful to the committee to know that of our 5 members the political affiliations are equally distributed with 2 republicans, 2 democrats, and 1 independent We hope this demonstrates to the committee that our reactions and comments are not politically motivated. They are motivated by the belief that this bill has the potential to weaken one of the consistently top rated school systems in the state.

We feel it is important for you to know that none of us were told this bill was being considered nor were we asked if it was needed (or if it would be helpful in any way). Furthermore, during our discussion of this matter, each of us shared that we had not had anyone in our county speak to any of us indicating they felt there was a need to change anything about the way School Board members have been elected in Watauga.

One of our Board members reached out to the director of our county's Elections and also to the Chair of the Board of Elections and asked the following questions;

Have voters registered any complaints with your office about the election process for the Board of Education? Both the director and the Chair replied, no.

Has Sen. Hise voiced any complaints with your office about the election process for the Board of Education? Both the director and the Chair replied, no. One of our major concerns is that we believe this bill has been submitted with very little input from the citizens of our county. Embedded in this concern is our belief that very few citizens of our county even know this bill has been proposed.

Another concern we have is around the issue of moving to district elections and eliminating at-large elections. Each of us have varying concerns about this. Each member expressed the concern that this would create the potential to limit the number of people who would run for Board of Education that are passionate about public education and motivated to act in the best interest of all our county's schools. Conversely, we feel it would increase the number of people who are coerced into running just because a district needs a school board candidate.

We also are concerned that by electing school board members from districts instead of at large it creates the potential for divisiveness and self-interest instead of cohesiveness and "best for the whole school system" thinking. For the committee's consideration it may be helpful to know that our Board of Education has historically enjoyed having representation from a variety of areas of our county. (This information can be provided to the committee should it like to know the breakdown of representation from the various areas of our county.) We can also provide information (if requested) that shows how moving to district representation could generate potential Board of Education members that would not be acceptable to the majority of the citizens or fairly represent the current distribution of schools in Watauga County.

It is appropriate to add that the Board would like to express gratitude to Senator Hise for including the provision that our Board of Education elections remain non-partisan.

To conclude, in summarizing the many thoughts of the current Watauga County Board of Education members, we have consensus in our belief this bill should not be approved because of the aforementioned concerns and the following additional statements.

The way our citizens elect the members of the Board of Education is not broken and doesn't need fixing.

We are consistently one of the top performing school systems in North Carolina and we are very concerned this bill has the potential to weaken our school system.

Mr Chairman, should you or any of the committee wish to have further information, or dialogue, you may reach out to me or any of our other members. Their names and email can be found on our school system's website at

Thank you in advance for your attention to this message and to our concerns as the officials elected by the citizens of Watauga County to represent our excellent school system.

Sincerely and gratefully,
Gary L. Childers
Watauga County Board of Education, Chair

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