Clayton County school board Chairwoman Pamela Adamson looks out into the audience during a presentation at the board’s meeting Monday. Adamson said she is opposed to proposed legislation to make the chairman a county-wide elected post.
JONESBORO Clayton County voters may decide next year whether the Clayton County school board chairman should become a county-wide elected position, Clayton News Daily has learned.
State Rep. Mike Glanton said he plans to drop legislation next week in the House of Representatives’ hopper to call for a non-binding referendum on the matter. The legislation is being drafted by the House’s legislative counsel this week.
The change would reduce the number of school board districts from nine to eight and there would be a full-time chairman. It is based on the structure of the Clayton County Commission, which already has a county-wide elected chairman.
Glanton said the fact that the commission chairman deals with a smaller budget but is held accountable by a greater number of voters is an issue.
“You have school board chairman who handles an [approximately] $500 million budget and has no accountability except to the people in his or her district,” Glanton said. “That’s a concern.”
The proposed legislation is one of three local bills Glanton plans to introduce in the state House of Representatives next week. Others deal with school board ethics and a referendum on Jonesboro’s Homestead Exemption.
Glanton said the referendum would be placed on county-wide election ballots in 2014 if the General Assembly passes the legislation.
The Clayton County Legislative Delegation will redraw school board district boundaries during the 2015-2016 legislative session to reflect the reduced number of boundaries if the referendum passes.
The first county-wide school board chairman’s election would take place in 2016 if the referendum were to pass.
School board Chairwoman Pamela Adamson said she has reservations about the proposed legislation.
“I would hate for that to happen,” she said, while admitting she had not heard of the proposed legislation.
Adamson said she has reservations about the idea of an elected chairman because she is fearful voters may not understand how the school board works.
She also said the elimination of a school board district would lead to an even number of votes on the board.
However, the model the proposed change is based on gives the chairman a vote in all matters that come before the board.
After it is introduced, it must go through multiple committees before it can be brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.
If it passes in the House, it then must go through the same process in the state Senate.
The legislation must make it out of the House by the General Assembly’s “Crossover Day” — which is expected to fall in early to mid-March — to have a shot at being passed by the Senate this year.
Repeal of Clayton County-specific BOE ethics law sought
In addition to the chairman legislation, Glanton said he also expects to drop legislation in the hopper next week to repeal two pieces of local legislation passed in 2008 and 2009 aimed at forcing Clayton County-specific ethics reforms on the school board.
The pieces of Clayton County-specific legislation, known locally as House Bill 1302 and House Bill 743, were passed by the General Assembly in the wake of 2008 SACS crisis, in which the school system lost its accreditation because of school board issues.
House Bill 1302 enacted a code of ethics for the school board, and it also created an ethics commission to enforce that code. House Bill 743 was passed to close some loopholes in House Bill 1302.
But, that same accreditation crisis also spawned Senate Bill 84, which enacted statewide school board ethics reforms with tougher penalties in 2010. The Clayton County school board has been trying since 2011 to get House Bills 1302 and 743 repealed as a result.
Glanton, who authored House Bills 1302 and 743, said the statewide bill made the local legislation unnecessary.
“Senate Bill 84 is now in place and House Bill 1302 basically does the same thing, only with less sanctioning power,” Glanton said. “For example, the governor now has the power to remove school board members [because of Senate Bill 84].”
Jonesboro homestead referendum legislation on the way
The third piece of legislation Glanton plans to introduce next week would call for a long awaited referendum in Jonesboro on lowering the city’s homestead exemption from $60,000 to $10,000.
The Jonesboro City Council first asked for the legislation in December 2010, but their request was not acted upon during the 2011-2012 legislative session. The council issued a new request last month.
The city’s argument for lowering the homestead exemption is that it is currently so high that most of the burden for paying Jonesboro’s 1.5-mil property tax has fallen on business owners. Lowering the exemption would mean residents and business owners would both share the tax burden.
Jonesboro Mayor Pro Tempore Pat Sebo, a supporter of lowering the property tax, said she was happy to hear the legislation was about to be introduced.
“I’m looking forward to us being able to move forward with the referendum,” Sebo said. “I’m just hoping the legislature will allow us to take advantage of this opportunity to let the people vote on lowering their homestead exemption.”
Clayton News Daily reporter Rachel Shirey contributed to this report.