SMITHFIELD – The Johnston County Board of Education released the following announcement this morning:
The Johnston County Board of Education is working to ensure all areas of the county have representation on the Board in 2022 by creating district elections.
To achieve this goal, the Board formed the District Elections Committee in March. Chairing the committee is Dr. Peggy Smith, and other members are Ronald Johnson, Terri Sessoms, and Tracie Zukowski.
The original proposal was to draw district lines to represent high school attendance areas and to hold elections county-wide. The committee has heard from numerous stakeholders, all of whom support district elections but have varying proposals of how the goal is achieved.
“As of November, two areas of our county [South and West] will no longer have representation on the Board,” said Dr. Smith. “Our goal is to assure that all areas of the county have a resident whom they know and to whom they can speak about issues and who will advocate for the needs of that area.”
The committee’s hope is that by creating districts, under-represented areas and populations of the county would have a better opportunity to have a voice on the school board.
The committee has met twice this year, once on April 29 and again on June 9. Thus far, they have contacted local school leaders, community leaders, and elected officials to share information and garner support for creating districts.
The committee mailed letters detailing the process and information on the creation of districts, along with a petition of support to more than 550 local leaders in Johnston County. Some of the organizations and community members who were contacted included the Johnston County Association of Educators (JCAE), PTA/PTOs, School Advisory Councils, local Chambers of Commerce, leaders of political parties, Johnston County Education Foundation officers, local mayors, county commissioners, the NAACP, those running for any office in Johnston County, and the Johnston County Principal and Assistant Principal Association (JCPAPA).
Dr. Smith noted that the committee recognizes and apologizes for the fact that a public hearing did not happen prior to the dissemination of the letters to local officials. Due to restrictions put in place by COVID-19 and time restrictions, the committee mailed the letters before the public had an opportunity to provide input. However, the letters and petitions have generated extensive and helpful dialogue with constituents.
“We understand that we should have held a public hearing first, but the letter has proven to be beneficial in generating good conversation and good direction for moving forward,” said Dr. Smith. “All members of our committee have met with various constituents, and we are committed to listening to community feedback.”
Some of the community feedback included concerns over the legality of the board creating districts and the funding of the letters. Dr. Smith stated that Boards of Education are able to structure their composition, and that all expenses associated with the letters were paid for by members of the committee.
Of the 76 letters returned to date, 67 petitions were returned in support of creating districts and nine were opposed. Nine were returned in support with qualifications, expressing a desire for Princeton and North Johnston to have their own respective districts.
Other feedback included a need for more data to move forward and potentially slowing down the process, which the committee has pledged to do.
As the committee moves forward with the process, Ronald Johnson will investigate the cost by entities such as the Institute of Government or OrEd and time requirements to create district lines – both for seven and nine member boards. Terri Sessoms will investigate the size of districts and the number of board members. Tracie Zukowski will investigate the achievement of counties who elect by districts and those who elect county-wide. They plan to collect all of the additional data by July 1.
The public hearing will be planned once all data and additional information is gathered. The committee’s goal is to hold a hearing in September when the 2020-2021 school year has resumed and citizens can focus on the issue at-hand.
After the public hearing, if the concept receives a substantial amount of community support, the petition would then be a part of a local bill that moves to state legislators during the January 2020 session.
“We expect to have significant feedback from our community, so we can continue to explore this proposal,” said Dr. Smith. “The committee is in unanimous agreement that there must be equal and fair representation for all students of Johnston County.”