EDITORIAL: Cloud of confusion hangs over school board

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Under the Education laws of the State of Tennessee, there is a process for being elected to serve as a county school board member.

Included in that process is a residency requirement: Members must live in the district they are seeking to represent.

Following is a passage from Education election law TCA 49-2-201:

"Members of county boards of education shall be residents of and elected from districts of substantially equal population established by resolution of the local legislative body."

We have emphasized what we believe to be the key portion of that law with respect to serving on a school board. It states, with specificity, that school board members should be residents of the districts they serve, not simply the county in which they live.

Next we come to TCA 49-2-202. It is in that portion of the Education laws where the entire process seems to change:

"Members of the board shall be residents and voters of the county in which they are elected and shall be citizens of recognized integrity, intelligence and ability to administer the duties of the office."

Note that 49-2-201 states members of school boards shall be residents of districts, while 49-2-202 says they shall be residents of the county.

Nowhere in the Education laws does it indicate why there is one rule for being elected (resident of a district) and another for serving once a person is elected (resident of the county).

Why is that important? Because there is another passage -- 49-2-202(5) -- which covers what constitutes a vacancy on a school board: "If any member ceases to reside in the county, the office of the member shall become vacant."

Here in Cannon County, at this time, there is a school board member who was elected in 2014 to represent District 5. The member now lives in District 4. Under 49-2-202, that member can serve until the next election, which is nearly a year away.

That may be legal, but it does not make sense.

Clearly, it is not the intent of the election portion of the Education laws for members to serve at large. It specifies school board members must be residents of districts. If it were the intent that a person could be elected to a school board by living anywhere within a county, the law would, we assume, say so.

However, the effect of 49-2-202 is that once a person is elected to a school board, the day after the election, they can move to any other district within a county and serve until the next election, or for two years.

Again, that just does not make sense. There is no logical reason why residents of a particular district or districts (if more than one school board member decides to move between elections) should not be represented by a person who lives among them, as is required when they were elected.

The state laws outlined so far are those which apply to Education.

There are also state laws covering Elections. Much of the information with respect to how school board members are elected and what constitutes a school vacancy can be found at the following link on the Tennessee Secretary of State website:

As is the case with the Education law dealing with elections, the Election law clearly states school board members are elected by districts: "Shall reside within and be a qualified voter of the district represented. (TCA 49-2-201)"

However, the Election law differs with respect to what constitutes a vacancy:

"The causes of vacancies are set out in TCA § 8-48-101. This section provides that any office in this state is vacated by the following (and lists as the third reason): Ceasing to be a resident of the state, or of the district, circuit, or county for which he was elected or appointed."

Unlike the Education law, there is no passage which broadens school board members to only having to live within a county. It specifically states a vacancy is created if a school board member ceases to live within the district for which he or she were elected or appointed.

Until the question of what officially constitutes a vacancy is resolved, District 5 will go without a school board member living in the district, an important conflict in state laws will go unaddressed, and a cloud of confusion will hang over the Cannon County School Board until August of next year.
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