City Council and Rep. Butler express opposing views about elected school board

January 19, 2018 chris
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By Sarrah Peters, News Editor

On Tuesday, January 16, the Gadsden City Council pased a resolution opposing the proposed bill regarding the election of Gadsden City School Board members.

Currently, Gadsden school board members are appointed by the Gadsden City Council, but State Representative Mack Butler of Rainbow City proposed a bill allowing Gadsden citizens to vote to make school board seats elected positions.

Butler said that last year he was contacted by the state board of education about the “drama” involving Gadsden’s school board, which, at that time, had been disagreeing about whether to hire a new superintendent.

“We have three fantastic school systems, and we want to maintain them,” said Butler. “Gadsden City is an academic powerhouse. It benefits every single one of us to have three strong school systems.”

Under the proposed bill, a board member would be elected from each of the seven districts in Gadsden and an eighth board member position, elected at large, will be added. The eighth member will act as president for the board.

Butler consulted school boards across Alabama to create the proposed bill with a new member elected at large.

“The thought with that was to give everybody ownership of that one position, while the other ones would be a little territorial,” said Butler.

The city council members named several issues that they have with the proposed bill. The council members made it a point to say that they are not at all opposed to the citizens of Gadsden voting on an elected school board, but only had issues with the proposed bill and how it came about.

“I want to definitely highlight the fact that we are not oppposed to people voting,” said Councilman Deverick Williams.

At the January 9 meeting of the Gadsden City Council, criticism over Butler’s jurisdiction was voiced. Councilwoman Cynthia Toles expressed that Butler, named only as a representative from Rainbow City, should not “stick his nose in Gadsden’s business” since he does not represent the people of Gadsden. All members seemed to agree that Butler should have consulted the council about the idea before proposing legislation.

“It bothers me that a representative that we cannot get to come and talk to us wants to tell us how to run our board of education,” said Councilman Thomas Worthy.

“It’s not about them,” said Butler about the Gadsden City Council. “It’s about the citizens, and I have talked to plenty of them.”

Butler said that he was only invited to a city council meeting once, which he attended, but the council voted against allowing him to speak.

At both meetings, council members brought up that Gadsden citizens voted on adopting an elected school board in 2008 and it was voted down by over 200 votes. Butler said that he thinks that a new election will yield a different result this time around.

“I don’t have any scientific numbers, but based on the input I have gotten from the citizens, it will overwhelmingly pass,” said Butler.

The biggest issue the council members had was with the new eighth board member position. The school board has four black and three white members, and the board often votes along racial lines. Some city council members expressed that they felt the eighth position was an attempt to usurp the black majority on the board.

“This is the very difficult part of the discussion but it is something that has to be called out,” said Williams. “When the referendum was presented in 2008, race was a primary motive for why it was presented then. The version of the bill that’s being presented now, that we are opposed to, race is a motive for why it is being presented.”

Williams and Worthy both expressed that racial issues are difficult to discuss, but must be addressed for the citizens of Gadsden to unite and make the school system the best it can be for everyone who attends it.

Butler denies that upsetting the current black majority would be the result if the new bill passes.

“It stands to reason that if the majority of the council districts are minority, that they could easily elect a minority president,” said Butler. “But I would love to get away from that, and just, let’s have resumes and qualified people. I don’t care if they are green with yellow polka dots. We need people that come from all walks of life. A lot of people don’t really understand what a school board does, but a school board sets and approves policy, and the school board hires professional educators to run a school system. That’s why it’s so beautiful that you can have some educators on the school board and you can have some moms and dads or you can have some business people. You can have them from all walks of life, and when they come together, they make a great team.”

Butler also said that it was entirely possible for current board members to run in the election and retain their positions.