Could school board elect to be elected?

Published 12:52 am Sunday, August 6, 2017


NATCHEZ — A statute in Mississippi state law could allow the Natchez-Adams School Board to vote to reorganize itself from an appointed to elected entity.

Adams County Board of Supervisors President Mike Lazarus said if this is the case, he fully intends to make a motion at Monday’s meeting to have supervisors ask school board members reorganize their board.

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“I did not know such a statute existed,” Lazarus said. “I think the public would be happy if we accomplish this because that way everyone will be represented, one way or another.

“If you do not like the ones on the board now, get out and vote. If you do like them, then get out and vote. The main thing is you get a choice.”

Supervisors Board Attorney Scott Slover recently researched code related to the school board at the request of supervisors. Slover cited Mississippi code 37-7-103, suggesting that the power to reorganize could enable the school board to become an elected body.

Lazarus said he believes the school board becoming an elected entity is inevitable, so the school board may as well utilize this statute and potentially save some taxpayer money. On the state level, Lazarus said the bill Sen. Bob Dearing (D-Natchez) previously introduced appears likely to be passed in 2018.

Lazarus said since the law will likely pass, the school board may as well have the election now with a special election already scheduled, rather than cost taxpayers more money with a special election next year.

“I don’t want to have another special election,” Lazarus said. “It would be foolish to spend $50,000 again.”

Dearing said the chairman of the education committee, Sen. Gray Tollison (R-Oxford), has told Dearing he would introduce the bill in committee in the 2018 Legislature.

The bill Dearing introduced in 2016 would change the Natchez-Adams School Board into an elected government body.

“I feel pretty good about getting it through the Senate,” Dearing said. “I will have to monitor it over in the House and make sure they pass it, too.”

If Lazarus were to make the motion and get a second, four supervisors have said they would vote yes, and one, Ricky Gray, said he would not support the motion. The supervisors have not discussed it amongst themselves, however, and votes could change.

Gray said he has concerns with the animosity in the community along racial lines and he wanted to try to keep the peace. Gray also said supervisors do not have authority to make the school board act.

“We have tried all of that before,” Gray said. “It is up to them if they want to decide to do whatever the law says. It is not for us to force them to do nothing.”

Should supervisors send a letter, the school board would not have to act upon it.

School Board President Amos James said he was not aware of such a law, and he could not comment on it. Whether the board would entertain changing to an elected body, James said, “I would have to discuss that with the rest of the board members.”

On the state level, Mississippi School Boards Association Executive Director Mike Waldrop said he did not believe the school board would necessarily have the authority to become an elected body.

Waldrop said he is unaware of a board ever changing the way it was selected.

Adams County Election Commissioner Larry Gardner said he believes the school board should be elected, since they are able to tax. Gardner said the system where the city aldermen appoint three and the county appoints two does not make sense because in theory, the board could end up not representing every district.

“In an elected school board, at least a representative would have to reside in each district,” Gardner said.

Gardner said if it were possible for the school board to reorganize, and if they elected to do so, they would need to vote by the end of August to be on the November ballot.

Qualifying would have to be done in a limited window and the ballots may would have to be ordered later, thus absentee ballots may not go out on time, Gardner said.

“We have had elections where we did not meet that window,” Gardner said. “It would not be the end of the world if that is what they decide to do.”