Cherokee County’s state delegation sent House Bill 978 to Deal to sign during the 11th hour of the 2012 legislative session. Deal has 40 days to sign the legislation.
The reapportionment map accompanying HB 978 also must receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the provisions of House Bill 978, Cherokee County voters will vote by post for six school board members and choose a chair elected countywide. The school board now has seven representatives elected countywide and members elect their own chair and vice chair during their first meeting of the calendar year.
A compromise redistricting plan, House Bill 1223, never made it out of the Senate. That bill would have created seven posts and no chair.
None of Cherokee County’s six delegation members returned phone calls from the Cherokee Tribune by press time.
School Board Vice Chair Janet Read said she was not surprised by the last-minute development, but “disappointed.”
“It just disappoints me that they would wait until the 11th hour,” she said.
Read said she had conveyed her concerns about the school board’s long-term governance to state Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) and said the school board member’s opposition was “not about me.”
“My interest is what is best for the school district because that’s what I was elected to do,” she said.
School Board Chairman Mike Chapman, who wrote to Gov. Deal earlier this week urging him to veto the legislation, sent another letter on Friday telling the governor the county’s delegation “has duped the public and ignored their wishes.”
Chapman pointed out in the most recent letter the governor does not have to sign HB 978 and referenced a 2002 Cobb County court case that ruled reapportionment by the state Legislature is not required if the seats are at-large.
“The delegation’s efforts to redraw the lines to put two incumbents into the same post and to limit how many school board members voters get to elect are not only obviously political payback, they’re also unnecessary,” Chapman said.
Under HB 978, Chapman, who now represents Post 2, will be in the new Post 6, which also includes present member Robert Wofford. Read, who represents Post 4, is redistricted into the newly configured Post 4 in which Rob Usher lives. The new Post 4 is in the Woodstock area, including parts of Towne Lake.
Those incumbent school board members whose posts are not up for re-election in 2012 will retain their seats, according to the legislation. Those include Post 3’s Michael Geist, Post 5’s Rick Steiner, Usher and Wofford.
School board members Cochran, Usher, Geist, Wofford and Steiner did not return calls for comment.
The election of a countywide chair garnered widespread criticism, including a letter from AdvancED that called the election of a school board chair “highly irregular” and warned it could jeopardize the system’s accreditation.
That chastising from AdvancED led to the delegation to put together House Bill 1223, which removed the countywide chair position and would have required all seven members be elected from their respective districts.
The last-minute wrangling has forced Cherokee County Elections and Voter Registration Supervisor Janet Munda to prepare for the acceptance of maps based on HB 978 as well as current lines. She said the state has set a deadline for April 19 to have all updated information entered into the system for the July 31 primary.
“There’s a transition period where I have to give all the voters the correct voting districts,” she said. “I’m so pressed for time.”
She said she cannot qualify candidates based on lines not approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Chapman went on to say his greatest concern is to protect the future of the Cherokee County School District and the public needed to hold the county’s delegation responsible.
“When more people — not just parents, but everyone in the community — realizes what has happened, I think the reaction will be strong and unmistakable,” he said.