MUSCLE SHOALS — Gov. Kay Ivey has vetoed a bill that would have allowed Muscle Shoals residents to determine by referendum if they wanted to change from an appointed to an elected school board.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, called for a vote of the people in conjunction with the Muscle Shoals municipal elections on Aug. 25.
Sorrell said the bill was the fulfillment of a campaign promise that he made in 2018 to allow Muscle Shoals residents to choose the method of seating their city school board.
On Thursday, he said he was surprised at the outcome and the governor's veto.
"I don't know why she chose not to let Muscle Shoals residents decide this issue for themselves," he said, adding that the governor didn't call to let him know of the veto.
"Her legislative liaison came up and handed me the paper saying she'd vetoed it, and I didn't get the opportunity to speak to her about it."
Sorrell said he expects to talk to Ivey about the issue later in the fall, as coronavirus concerns are the chief focus now.
"I'm disappointed for the citizens, and I won't refile the bill unless she changes her mind," he said. "My intention was never to change the board but to give the citizens a voice in it."
The board has been appointed for the past 63 years.
Muscle Shoals Superintendent Brian Lindsey said the school system was established under direction of an appointed board, and the proof of its effectiveness is the fact the system ranks as one of the top in the state academically.
"There was an election to have the board changed several years ago and it was soundly defeated," he said. "The school system continues to rank as one of the top school systems in the state (the data supports it); why would you want to change it? "
Incoming superintendent Chad Holden said he has personal knowledge of many residents calling and emailing the governor last week to state their opposition to the bill.
"I think she heard us loud and clear," he said.
Holden is in the unique position to have worked throughout his career for an appointed school board in Muscle Shoals, but also served six years on Lauderdale County's elected school board.
"School issues are sometimes emotional ones and having served in an elected capacity, I can see how emotional situations could be influenced by a board member thinking on re-election," he said. "Politics shouldn't play into important school decisions."
He went on to say that Ivey did the right thing.
"She recognized the success of Muscle Shoals City Schools and agreed there was no reason to fundamentally change our governance," Holden said. "I appreciate her willingness to listen to the data that supported keeping the appointed board in place."
Still, Holden said he was surprised by the timing of the bill.
"Proposing a political referendum in the midst of a global pandemic made no sense to me," he said. "It just didn't line up with what our priorities should be right now, and that's the health and safety of our citizens. I'm shocked that the legislators felt that it was a priority now."
Muscle Shoals resident John Saylor said he emailed the governor's office asking her to veto the bill, and he followed it up with a phone call whereby he left a voice message. He said he also took to social media in urging others to voice their opposition.
"We have a school board administration that's done a phenomenal job for many years and it's working," Saylor said. "It's a fit for our school system. I saw no reason to politicize our school system. I'd much prefer a competent servant-leader to a politician in this position on a school board."