By Lee Youngblood

Kemper County Messenger

A bill moving in the Mississippi Senate would require all Mississippi school board elections be held concurrently with the state general election, and reduce members’ terms by two years.

Currently the elections are staggered, ensuring that no school board can be elected with all new, and presumably “inexperienced,” members.

Because of that, the bill has little support among Kemper County officials.

“I see it almost as an assault on public education, a way for the state to have more control, taking away school board members ability to make decisions,” said James Creer, Kemper County School Board member.

“If you get a whole new board at once, it’s almost like malpractice,” Creer continued.  “Most school districts have budgets larger than county budgets, and they have more employees. You need experience.”

The state’s largest teachers’ union agrees.

“The use of staggered terms ensures that there will always be members serving who have had experience in this public service role,” said a release from the Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE), which is leading opposition to the bill.

MAE called last Tuesday a “bad day for public education in Mississippi,” when Senate Bill 2400 passed the Senate Elections Committee overwhelmingly, along with a companion school choice bill that would allow parents to access taxpayer funded “vouchers” as a means of sending their children to private schools.

However proponents say Senate Bill 2400, which would take effect in 2023, could heighten interest in school board elections increasing voter participation.

“I’m not against it,” said State Representative Michael Ted Evans, a Democrat from Preston. “If your supervisors can be elected all at one time and they run the biggest part of the county, then I don’t know why the school board couldn’t be elected at one time.  It would create more attention to the process, because right now very few people will go vote for school board elections. You’d have more competition and more people interested in doing it (with concurrent elections.).”

Senate Bill 2400 — introduced by two Republican legislators; Senators Kevin Blackwell, of Southaven, and Joseph Seymour, of Vancleave — would also require board terms be set at four years, instead of the current six.

With all but one of Mississippi’s current statewide elected officials Republicans, local officials suggested having school board elections concurrent with general elections could favor the majority incumbent party, potentially politicizing what are traditionally thought to be less partisan local school board races.

Veteran Democratic State Senator Sampson Jackson, who represents Kemper County, said that, based on local feedback thus far, he would likely oppose the measure if it comes to a full Senate vote.

“I haven’t seen the bill, but I’ve had some callers who’re concerned about it,” Jackson said.  “I’d hate to see any totally new school board come in at one time with no experience. I’ll read the entire bill and make a decision, but right now I’m leaning against it.”

Kemper County school board member Rontal Jenkins said he believes anyone who thinks a school board position is easy should think again.

“When you first get there you need to be guided along as to what to do and what not to do,” Jenkins said.  “Having all the members brand new would be tough… real tough.”

Jenkins said he believes Kemper County voters will come out for school board races without regard to when they’re ultimately held.

“I think the county at large really looks at school board members as an important thing,” Jenkins concluded.  “They really rally and pay attention, and if you’re not doing your job they will get a school board member out, regardless of whether the election is held with the supervisors’ elections or not.”