BY BETH KENDALL
There was an accident, so traffic was at a standstill.
The gravitational pull of the moon causes the tides of the ocean.
I stuck to a training plan, so I finished my race strong.
Cause and effect is a concept we all learn in grade school, and we see it play out in hundreds of circumstances every day. The older we get, the easier it becomes to game out scenarios. Sometimes we can almost predict the future based on the simple rules of cause and effect we learned when we were children.
Last week the text messages written by current members of the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education were revealed to us, the voters of Iredell County. These messages included clear instances of breaking open meetings laws (and making light of it), attempts to stifle student-led, after-school events because the board members did not like the message or the messenger, discrimination against LGBTQIA + students and the struggles they may face, and the dehumanization of students at Statesville High and the faculty and staff. Any one of these is terrible, but taken together it truly makes one question why any of these people chose to serve on the I-SS School Board, whose stated mission is “to enable ALL students to achieve their academic potential and lead productive and rewarding lives.”
Historically in North Carolina, school boards have been nonpartisan. In this system voters choose school board members based on their qualifications, their previous experience, and their reputation in the community—instead of a letter beside their name. Until 2016, Iredell-Statesville Schools was a nonpartisan school board. Since that time there has been a rise of partisan school boards across North Carolina. It took four years for the school board here to consist entirely of Republicans, and two more years to deliver a majority of extremist members from the far right-wing of the GOP. Cause and effect.
Why, you might ask, is it a bad thing simply to identify political party in a school board race? People already identify themselves by party affiliation, whether its Democrat, Libertarian, Republican, Unaffiliated, etc. If they are running for office, why shouldn’t voters see that? The problem is when people ONLY see that information, and SOLELY use it to make their decision. School boards are about inherently local issues. Partisan labels distort these local issues and allow for distraction from them. Candidates aren’t forced to take a position on a local issue they will actually impact, when they can ride the partisan wave of an election cycle. This leads to ideological candidates who care more about an extremist agenda than the work — in this case of improving schools, encouraging teachers and educating ALL students. Cause and effect.
Four of the stars of the text messages, Brian Sloan, Abby Trent, Michael Kubinek, and Anita Kurn were elected in this most recent election cycle. They won their elections, but did they win because of the campaigns they ran or because of the R beside their names? This school board is a picture, the dictionary definition, of extreme partisanship run amok. Every one of those school board members involved in the illegal text meetings should resign. Their conduct is far too egregious to continue to serve as a leader in our community.
If this is the effect of partisan school board elections, shouldn’t we instead be pushing our local leaders, who can impact bills in the North Carolina General Assembly, to point to this school board as a cautionary tale? Instead of pushing for more partisan school boards, push for a system where the best, most qualified candidates win. There is currently legislation pending in the General Assembly to make more school board elections partisan contests. We need to encourage our state senator, Vickie Sawyer, and state representatives Jeff McNeely, Mitchell Setzer and Grey Mills to vote against this, but also to lobby their colleagues to do likewise.
Most people across the state — and I would venture to guess most people everywhere — actually want less partisan politics in their daily lives. Republican lawmakers are hurling it upon the unwilling people of our state, and last week here in Iredell County we saw the consequences.
Tell your legislators to roll back the party politics. School boards are too important to be left to the mercy of partisan politics. The effects are far too dire.
Beth Kendall is the chairwoman of the Iredell County Democratic Party.