About 60 people attended the meeting at Hickory Flat Public Library in which Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers and state Reps. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat) and Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) were peppered with questions from audience members on why they proposed legislation changing how voters elect local school board and county commission members.
The legislators were on the defensive as they fielded questions from residents during the majority of the meeting.
Resident Cynthia Kight, who attended the meeting, said County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo deserves credit for turning the Cherokee County School District around from being placed on academic probation to one that’s lauded in the state.
Kight said she does not want to see the district return to the days in which its woes were the topic of discussion on television.
House Bill 978, she added, “takes away choice for the voters.”
Under the provisions of the proposed bill, Cherokee County voters will vote by post for six school board members and choose a chairperson elected countywide. The school board now has seven representatives elected countywide and the board elects its own chair and vice chair.
A companion piece of legislation, House Bill 979 requires commission members reside and be elected solely from their posts and for the commission chair to remain elected countywide.
The system currently in place allows residents to vote for two post commissioners and the chair.
Jerguson responded to Kight by saying the “delegation is not taking choice away,” and proceeded to explain the legislators’ reasons.
Legislators have to maintain the one-person, one-vote rule and reapportionment must reflect that law, Jerguson said.
However, Jerguson repeated the delegation’s stance that both the school board, as well as the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, did not present a clear consensus in their recommendations to leave the voting process in place.
Both the school board and county commission were split in their recommendations to keep the existing election process.
Hill said the delegation requires that any request made by local elected officials be unanimous.
Jerguson said Cherokee County is one of two counties that elect school board member at-large and is the only county that elects its county commission members the way it does.
Residents in the eastern district elect commissioners for Posts 1 and 2, and voters in the western district vote for candidates in Posts 3 and 4. Voters countywide elect the chair.
Jerguson and Hill said that when they didn’t get a clear consensus from the local elected officials, they then decided to conduct a third-party telephone poll.
The Grassroots Conservatives of Cherokee County last month conducted two polls to examine possible changes to how voters elect school board and county commission members.
When those results didn’t present a clear majority, they then commissioned a committee made up of 13 citizens to present them with recommendations.
Hill added he was “surprised” at what he said were many people who are not in favor of the one person, one vote system.
Rogers didn’t say much during the meeting on the controversy, but noted it “doesn’t mean a hill of beans to me” when it comes to reapportionment and changing how voters elect school board members.
Another person in attendance, Shawn McClellan questioned the poll legislators referred to, adding Rogers contributed money to the organization to fund the research.
“It comes across as being really slimy,” he said.
Canton resident Debbie Davis, who described herself as “pro-charter school,” said after the meeting that she agrees with the change.
She noted the change would give her a chance to elect a school board member who “represents our schools.”
“They will have the best interest of our schools,” she said, referring to school board members.
Kelly Anfuso of Canton agrees, adding she is totally supportive of the proposed redrawing.
Anfuso, another charter school supporter who lives in the Hasty Elementary School boundary, said she believes the current school board members gravitate towards the higher performing schools rather than focusing their attention to Title I schools like Hasty.
“I want someone who would help out my school,” she said.