MUSCLE SHOALS — A bill that would allow Muscle Shoals residents to decide if they want to elect their board of education members has been sent to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.
"The referendum will take place in conjunction with the Muscle Shoals municipal elections this August," Sorrell said. "That was intentional on my part, because I wanted to put it on the same ballot so the city wouldn't have to bear the cost of holding a special referendum."
It will also be more convenient to voters because they are already going out to vote that day, he said.
Municipal elections take place Aug. 25. Any runoffs would take place Oct. 6.
"This is the fulfillment of a campaign promise I made in 2018, which was to allow Muscle Shoals residents the ability to choose the method of seating their city school board," Sorrell said.
If Ivey signs the bill, it immediately becomes law.
According to the bill, local laws may provide for the termination of the terms of office of existing board of education members. Local laws can also determine initial and succeeding terms of office, including staggered terms, election districts and at-large membership.
Local laws can also determine qualifications, powers, duties and responsibilities, vacancies, compensation and any other matters the Legislature determines necessary for the operation of the board.
While he prefers an appointed board, current board President Ferrell Southern said the people will decide what type of board they want.
"As a school board, we've done about as well as we could do right now," Southern said. "This was not brought on by our stakeholders. If it's not broke, why fix it?"
Southern said a similar referendum in 2000 was defeated.
"It hasn't come up since," he said.
Southern, who has been on the board 14 years, has one more year to serve as president before he leaves the board due to term limits.
He said members of the Muscle Shoals Board of Education have been appointed for the past 63 years.
Incoming Superintendent of Education Chad Holden said he can't see the need for an elected board when the appointed board has served the school system well for years.
Holden said student achievement should be the primary metric to determine if a system is on right track.
"The school system has been successful for a long period of time," he said. "It will continue to be no matter how this turns out."
Holden said it's also a difficult time for stakeholders who are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic to try and focus on a referendum. He is also concerned an at-large election could negatively impact minority representation on the board.
Another bill pertaining to education in Colbert County would ensure the county superintendent of education would always be elected.
Sorrell said a colleague from South Alabama promoted a bill that would require all superintendents in the state to be appointed.
"If that bill were to pass, Colbert County would have to comply, unless we had passed a local constitutional amendment that we wanted to keep an elected superintendent," Sorrell said. "I'm for giving the people the choice, same as in Muscle Shoals."
The colleague's bill did not pass, and Sorrell said his bill likely will not get approved this year.
"I assume the bill will come back in future years, and I wanted to prepare Colbert County for that eventuality," he said.