School board members are some of the most selfless public servants in Alabama. This accolade goes to the Alabama State Board of Education, and, more specifically, local school board members. These members are tasked with a very important mission but receive very little compensation for their time and efforts. They are indeed public servants.
The Alabama State Board of Education is a nine-member body that sets public education policy for K-12 schools. The governor is an ex-officio member of the board, and the remaining eight members are elected to four-year terms from single-member districts of approximately equal population. There is no limit to the number of terms a school board member may serve. The seats are partisan-driven. Currently, our state school board has six Republican members and two Democratic members.
Given the fact that members are elected rather than appointed, it is somewhat surprising that our current eight members are so well-qualified and suited to be state school board members.
Dr. Wayne Reynolds, who represents District 8, best exemplifies this statement. He has a doctorate in education and has spent over four decades as an education administrator. He is retired and brings his experience and wisdom to the table. In his early years, Wayne was a decorated Vietnam War Veteran. He and his wife Carol reside in the Limestone/Madison area. Wayne is a Republican and was re-elected to his second four-year term earlier this year.
Marie Manning has just been elected to District 6, which is a Republican district. She will begin her first term in January. Prior to her recent election to the state school board, Marie served as Vice President of the St. Clair County Board of Education. During her stellar career in education, Marie was a classroom teacher, vice-principal, principal, and superintendent.
Dr. Yvette Richardson represents District 4 and is a resident of Montgomery. Yvette is a Democrat and was re-elected to another four-year term in the Democratic Primary. She has a doctorate degree from the University of Alabama and has had a distinguished career in education.
Tracie West is a Republican member of the board from District 2. She was re-elected to a second four-year term in the Republican Primary. She hails from Auburn and, as would be expected from this area, is well-qualified and versed in education knowledge and policy. Prior to being elected to the state school board, Tracie served as a member of the Auburn City Schools Board of Education, including serving as president of that board.
There are four members up for re-election in 2024, Jackie Ziegler, Stephanie Bell, Tonya Chestnut, and Belinda McRae, provided all four decide to seek another term.
Jackie Ziegler of Mobile is a Republican board member and represents District 1. She was first elected in 2016 and is an experienced and successful educator. She is a graduate of the University of South Alabama. She was a classroom teacher, then a longtime principal in the Mobile County School System. She is married to State Auditor Jim Ziegler.
Stephanie Bell, who represents District 3, is by far the most veteran member of the board, having first been elected in 1994 and re-elected to eight consecutive terms. At the end of her current term, she will have served over 30 years. She is a stellar member, an asset to the board, and hopefully, will run again. Stephanie is a lifelong resident of Montgomery, as is her husband.
Dr. Tonya Chestnut, a native of Selma, is a Democrat and represents District 5. She has a doctorate in education and is the former Dean of Alabama State University College of Visual and Performing Arts.
Belinda McRae of Hamilton is the Republican board member for District 7. She is in her first term. Belinda taught English and art for 25 years in the Marion County School System and served on the Marion County Board of Education before being elected to the State School Board.
Choosing the State Superintendent is probably the most important task of the Alabama State School Board, and the board made an excellent choice when they selected Dr. Eric Mackey as Alabama State Superintendent of Education. Dr. Mackey is a former school superintendent and former Executive Director of the State School Superintendents Association.
Most of our former governors did not take their ex-officio role as seriously as Governor Kay Ivey. Governor Ivey has been a very active and dutiful member of the Alabama State School Board.
In closing, allow me to not only give accolades to the state school board but also a tip of the hat to all local school board members.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.