Polk seeks referendum on partisan school board

Published 7:20 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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Commissioners come to a consensus to research referendum for 2022

COLUMBUS—Polk County Commissioners came to a consensus Monday that they want to know how voters feel about making its school board partisan. 

Commissioners met Monday and heard from chairman Tommy Melton about having a referendum next November. 

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All commissioners said they agreed with having a referendum to see if residents would like to change the Polk County School Board from running non-partisan to running partisan. 

Melton said he has been getting a lot of feedback from the community about the Polk County School Board becoming a partisan office. 

“While I believe that the school board is doing a great job of educating our children, I cannot dismiss requests from the community to make it an elected body partisan,” Melton said. “I would like for the board to entertain, via consensus, to direct the county attorney to put a draft of a referendum together that asks the citizens of this community whether or not they want the school board to become a partisan office.” 

The issue has arisen after the community has been split over whether or not students and staff should be required to wear masks at school. The Polk County School Board prior to school beginning in August decided to make masks optional, but after many quarantines and staff shortages within the first 2 weeks, decided to require masks. The school board has seen much opposition from both sides over both decisions. 

All commissioners agreed on Monday that they would like to seek a referendum. 

Commissioner Myron Yoder said he does not care to have anything partisan with students, but said sometimes we look at our governing boards and ask what are their principals; what they stand behind. Yoder said the people have the right to know what people are about, especially on an elected board. 

After some citizen comments, commissioner Andre Overholt clarified that even though commissioners have the power to make the school board partisan, “We want the voice of the people to be heard.” 

The consensus was for county attorney Jana Berg to work with Polk County Board of Elections Director Cliff Marr to bring back a referendum at the next meeting in October. 

Commissioners would have to vote to place a referendum on the ballot with a resolution. 

A referendum could not be held during the municipal election this November. The referendum, if approved, would be placed on the November 2022 county election ballot.