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Reviewed Date: December 19, 2016
Candidates for School Board Seats Must Be Residents of the District They Represent
Members of county and city school boards of education must be residents of and elected from the districts they represent.
Knowledgebase-Candidates for School Board Seats Must Be Residents of the District They Represent
Re: School Board elections
Your MTAS Management Consultant sent me some questions for which you have requested answers concerning the election of members of the City School Board. Despite the language appearing in your Town Charter, the election of school board members is a matter controlled by our state general laws. The following language appears in our state law governing local boards of education, The Education Improvement Act of 1991:
(a)(1) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, there shall be a board of education elected by the people. …. 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 .….. Vacancies occurring on the board shall be filled by the local legislative body. …..Any person so appointed shall serve until a successor is elected and qualifies according to law. The successor shall be elected at the next general election for which candidates have a sufficient time to qualify under the law. All elections for school board members shall be conducted on a nonpartisan basis, and no person seeking a position on a board shall campaign as the nominee or representative of any political party. Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-201 (West).
By using the phrase “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary,” this statute takes precedence over the language in your private act charter which calls for the governing body to appoint the board of education members. School board members for all schools in Tennessee must rather be elected.
With regard to qualifications to run for the school board, the above section of the law speaks to county boards and states: “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.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-201(a)(1). Despite using the word “county” in this clause, this requirement actually applies to city boards of education as well.
Tennessee Attorney General Opinion No. 96-123 states:
The Education Improvement Act of 1991 (EIA) provided for a uniform system of governance of county, municipal and special school districts. Part 2 of Chapter 2 of Title 49 now applies to “Boards of Education” rather than “County Boards of Education” as before....
The Attorney General is therefore of the opinion that the law applies equally to municipal and county boards of education, despite the failure of the General Assembly to use more inclusive language in T.C.A. § 49-2-202. There are numerous Attorney General Opinions applying the Education Improvement Act to city school boards. See for example, Tenn. Atty. Gen. Op. Nos. 93-15, 94-074, and 98-235. There are no reported court opinions or legislative acts which challenge this interpretation and application of the law by the Attorney General, so it stands as precedence on the issue. Therefore, in my opinion persons elected to the School Board must be residents of your Town.
Accordingly, following are my answers to specific questions posed:
Are seats on the city school board to be elected by the voters, or appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen? School Board members must be elected by the voters, not appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
If the seats are to be up for election, are non-resident property owners eligible for a seat on the city school board? No, candidates for school board seats must be residents of the Town.
If the seats are to be appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, are non-resident property owners eligible for a seat on the city school board? The Board of Mayor and Aldermen may only appoint a member to the school board if there is a vacancy during an elected member’s term of office. This may occur due to death, resignation or the board member moving outside the town limits. In such circumstances, only a resident of your Town is qualified for such appointment.
I hope this information is helpful.
Melissa A. Ashburn