Tennessee state leaders debate on partisan or non-partisan school board elections

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 7:58 PM CST

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - During a special session in late October, Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill allowing school board candidates to run as Republicans, Democrats, or members of any other political party.

“What that means is that both parties will have an opportunity to call for an election,” said Brent Taylor with the Shelby County Election Commission. “So, the candidates running and the school board elections, whether it be the Shelby County School Board or the municipal school districts, will be able to run in party primaries and they’ll have the backing of the Democrat or Republican party.”

Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, says the bill will increase transparency and accountability for school board members.

“You have people who are running as Democrats or Republicans even in nonpartisan and you can look up their voting record and kind of know how they align themselves and who’s supporting them,” Sexton said. “So, all this does is bring more transparency to the process.”

Democratic State Representative Antonio Parkinson voted against the legislation.

“Any bill that would allow partisan elections in school boards will politicize education, and you know, we’re totally against that,” Parkinson said. “We always want to keep education about the kids, about the students, about our educators in our school systems.”

Previously, local school board elections were nonpartisan in Tennessee, and candidates were banned from campaigning as a nominee or representative of a political party when running for school board.

Now, it’s up to local political parties to decide if they want to direct county election officials to hold a party primary for their seats.

“If one party calls for the election, that does not necessarily trigger a party primary for the other party,” Taylor explained. “So, if we could have a situation like we did in 1994, where one political party has primaries for school board and the other party chooses not to do that.”

Local political parties have until December 10 to notify the election commission if they will be calling for the election of school boards.

Action News 5 reached out to both the Shelby County Democrat and Republican parties to see what they plan to do.

Democratic Party President Gabby Salinas says there are still several meetings that need to take place to decide.

We’re still waiting to hear back from the Republican Party.

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