Originally created 04/28/04

Board's language program question won't be on ballot



The Columbia County Board of Education wanted to ask voters whether they favor having an elementary foreign language program.

But the question the board crafted won't be the one that appears on the Republicans' July 20 primary ballot, local party leaders say.

The Columbia County Republican Party Executive Board - at the recommendation of its ballot question committee - vetoed a question recently submitted by the school board.

Party Chairman and School Board Member Lee Muns said the committee felt it was a "kill question," worded to automatically get a negative response from voters.

"Part of the question alludes to an automatic tax increase and does not show that they have fully considered all funding options available," said Larry Long, the committee's chairman.

The question, which was sent to the party April 16, was slated to receive final approval from the board at Tuesday night's meeting. But after the board got the letter with the news from Mr. Muns earlier that day, the question died for lack of a motion.

Board members were furious at the language in Mr. Muns' letter: "If the citizens of Columbia County respond positively to this question, then the board must decide how to fund the implementation."

"I've got a serious problem with a party deciding how our school board should operate," board member Wayne Bridges said. "Why don't we just disband the board and go straight to the Republican Party to get Mr. (Superintendent Tommy) Price's marching orders?"

Mr. Muns also told the board at Tuesday night's meeting that his party had begun drafting its own question even before the board wrote theirs, something he did not disclose at the last meeting.

It was during that meeting that the board gave their question tentative approval.

"It's a moot point," Mr. Bridges said. "He's already admitted their question was going to be on the ballot. It's not up to us. As the board of education, we have no say-so in this. It seems to me Mr. Muns had an obligation to inform the board of it."

Both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, which did not submit questions in the 2002 election, have formed committees to decide on topics and word choice. The parties' questions must be submitted to the county's Board of Elections office by May 3.

Terry Holley, the chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said his group will likely go with what the school board decides.

"I've committed to helping them and told them we would get the question out for them," Mr. Holley said.

In the 2002 local primaries, 11,652 people voted on Republican ballots and 1,869 voted on Democratic ballots, Board of Elections Executive Director Deborah Marshall said.

Two other nonbinding referendums that received voter support - to make the county's commission chairman and later the school board chairman at-large elected seats - have made their way into state legislation.

Expanding foreign language in the school system, however, would ultimately be a school board decision.

But in the three years the subject has been debated, the board has yet to reach a consensus.

School officials say the program would cost about $4 million if foreign language instruction were offered every day for 30 minutes and about $2.5 million if it were offered three days a week for 30 minutes.

"We would be giving them (voters) a false security that we are not going to raise taxes, and we will have to raise taxes," Board Chairman Roxanne Whitaker said.

Columbia County Bureau Chief Vicky Eckenrode contributed to this report.

ballot Question

  • Question to appear on the Columbia County Republican primary ballot July 20:

    "Are you in favor of the Columbia County Board of Education moving forward with implementation of foreign language instruction in elementary grades K-5?"

  • Question the school board submitted:

    "Would you be in favor of an approximate 1.5 mill tax increase to fund an elementary school Spanish program?"