Wake County School Board members hope to be re-elected to staggered four-year terms if local election officials do not object.
Currently, the nine members of the school board are elected every two years. But school board members said they would ask the Wake County Board of Elections to let them move to four-year terms where not everyone is on the ballot at the same time.
“It’s really critical to get to staggered terms,” said board member Christine Kushner. “Hopefully we can expedite this so that the Board of Elections can sort this out.”
The request for change will come in a resolution that includes new cards that will be used by voters to elect board members for the next decade. Council plans to pass the maps and resolution by March 15.
All nine board seats will still be on the ballot in November. Voters can only choose in the constituency where they reside.
But the school board will suggest that some of those nine districts be on the ballot this year for four-year terms. Other districts would not move to four-year terms until the 2024 election.
Wake election officials are already acting on a resolution passed by the Wake County Board of Commissioners in November that will reduce their seats to staggered four-year terms, The News & Observer previously reported.
Trial on the cards
For decades, members of the Wake School Board had been elected to staggered 4-year terms.
Typically, elected bodies adopt their own redistricting maps. But in 2013, the General Assembly redrew the electoral districts of the school board and then adopted these maps also for the commissioners.
The plan of the legislature still allowed for staggered terms of four years.
In 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Legislature’s maps for Wake were unconstitutional while leaving the rest of the law in place.
In response, United States District Court Chief Judge James C. Dever III issued an interim restorative court order changing the election cycle to non-staggered two-year terms. Dever said the order would be in effect until state lawmakers pass a new plan or the 2020 census.
Last year, the State House passed legislation return the school board to staggered four-year terms. The bill stalled in the Senate.
Adam Mitchell, an attorney for Tharrington Smith, which is the district’s law firm, told the school board that the court’s interim order had expired. Based on his interpretation, he said the school board could revert to staggered four-year terms.
But Mitchell said the school board does not have the independent authority to determine how its members are elected. He said they can provide election officials with the district’s reasoning for why they can go back to staggered four-year terms.
“Members of the Board of Elections are welcome to do whatever they want,” said school board president Lindsay Mahaffey. “But I think if we give them a clear direction, we will at least make some effort so that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
New electoral maps
Every 10 years, the school system uses the latest census data to redraw new electoral boundaries for council seats. The maps need to be redrawn in part to balance the population disparities that have grown between the nine districts since the 2010 census.
The school board hired Mapfigure Consulting to develop three options for new maps. Mapfigure was asked to consider several criteria, including:
▪ Equality of population between districts.
▪ Review of the Federal Voting Rights Act.
▪ Use existing districts as a starting point to try to minimize changes.
▪ Avoid putting board members in the same district.
▪ Consideration of expected growth.
The maps were presented at public hearings last month which drew a low turnout.
Board members proposed revisions to the maps last Tuesday. A special meeting will be held on March 9 to review the revisions.
This story was originally published March 4, 2022 12:27 p.m.