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In North Carolina, partisan school board elections are on the rise.

A partisan election includes the political party of candidates on the ballot. 

More than 50 school boards in the state are partisan or will be by 2024. A recent law passed by the N.C. General Assembly made school board elections in Catawba, Hickory, Newton-Conover and Polk districts partisan, starting next year.

Since achieving majority control in the General Assembly in 2010, Republican lawmakers have gradually shifted the makeup of school boards by filing local bills — legislation that affects fewer than 15 counties and does not require approval from the governor.

School board members establish and maintain policies for schools in their district, as well as hire and collaborate with the district superintendent. They are responsible for setting direction, ensuring accountability and providing community leadership as advocates for schools.

Jeff Taylor, a Catawba County Schools board member eligible for reelection in 2024, has no doubts about running again. Unlike the last time he ran in the predominantly Republican county, his name will be on the ballot with "Democrat" beside it. 

"I personally don't feel like the school board should be partisan, but I understand why they did it," Taylor said. "They did it so that the agenda that they want to push can be consistent and so they can get people's votes without people really examining the candidates and looking into the issues."

According to Michael Bitzer, the politics department chair at Catawba College, increased partisanship in school boards stems from polarization — especially within state legislatures — and the inclusion of national issues in local educational debates.

"With super-majorities in the state legislature, Republicans are seeking to align as many offices within their grasp as they can, to ensure partisan politics are apparent when voters cast their ballots for these offices," Bitzer said in an email.

What about Chapel Hill?

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district is not partisan. Over a week after the CHCCS Board of Education candidate registration opened on July 7, no one had filed to run for a seat.

A few days after local blog Triangle Blog Blog published a piece about the lack of candidates and the possible threats that entailed, the list grew to 16 candidates.

Although some dropped out, 13 candidates, including three incumbents, are running for the four available seats on the CHCCS board this year. 

The CHCCS board is composed of seven members elected to serve four-year terms. 

Candidate Vickie Feaster Fornville said she believes the increase of partisan school boards is being used as a tool to "dismantle" local public education.

Rani Dasi, the current CHCCS board chair and also a candidate in this year's election, expressed concern over the changing environment around school board elections. 

"It really saddens me because these kids are our community,” Dasi said. “What becomes of their lives if they don't have appropriate and sound basic education to enable them to navigate the world."

Taylor said lawmakers making Catawba County's school board election partisan shows they don't want voters to think critically about their voting choices, and to vote based on the candidate's party affiliation.

“The more people we have at the table with different views and different voices, the better and the stronger that table will be,” Fornville said. 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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