Johnson City School Board voices concern over upcoming partisan elections

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Several members of the Johnson City Board of Education spoke out against partisan school board elections at their monthly meeting Monday night.

On November 12, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that would allow county political parties to call for partisan primary elections. The bill was passed by the General Assembly during the special session on COVID-19.

Last week, the Washington County Republican Party announced their call for a Republican primary in the school board races for Washington County Schools and Johnson City Schools.

Washington County Democratic Party officials said they expect to call for a Democratic primary soon.

Johnson City School Board Chair Kathy Hall worried a partisan race could lead to a divisive school board.

“We’re really trying to do this for the students and make sure that we’re all working together. I would hate to have any layer of politics in there that doesn’t need to be there,” Hall said. “This is what it is. We’re moving forward and we’ll work within the framework that our legislature has set up.”

At Monday’s meeting, board members learned from the Washington County Election Commission what those partisan elections will look like.

For Johnson City Board of Education, candidates can declare their run for the board in the 2022 election season starting February 7 until April 7. The primary election will take place August 4, then the general election on November 8.

Four at-large board seats are up for grabs. Administrator of Elections Dana Jones told the board that four Republicans, four Democrats and an unlimited number of independents can make the general election ballot.

For the Washington County Board of Education, candidates can declare from December 20, 2021 through February 17, 2022. The primary will be held May 3, and the general election on August 4.

Six seats will be filled, including three in District 1 and three in District 3.

Johnson City board members said the addition of a primary created too long of a campaign season and increased campaign costs.

“We’re going to have to do two campaigns with unlimited funding,” board member Tom Hager said. “I think that’s asking an awful lot for somebody that wants to be on the school board.”

Some members stated that partisan elections would take away diverse viewpoints from the board.

Other school boards around Northeast Tennessee also voiced opposition to partisan school board races.

Kingsport Board of Education voted 4-1 last week on a resolution against partisan races. Washington County Board of Education voted unanimously against partisan elections before the General Assembly passed the law.

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