Athens school board members on Thursday approved the canvassing of vote totals from the Nov. 4 bond election.

It was an approval in the face of continuing disapproval by some board members, administrators and voters regarding those results.

“Canvassing is just what we’re doing,” school board President David Freeman noted. “...It has no further implications as far as the legitimacy (of the election results).”

The vote to canvass the results was unanimous, with board member Ginger Kirk absent from the proceedings.

If the point wasn’t driven home enough at the special-called meeting, trustee Bob Spears moments later confirmed the board was “acknowledging the count — and not necessarily the results.”

Concerns regarding the election results began to emerge in the days following Nov. 4. Some Athens ISD voters said polling workers gave them ballots that didn’t include the bond proposals. At least one Eustace voter said she voted on the proposals despite paying school taxes to Eustace ISD.

School officials also took issue over election workers asking voters whether they pay AISD taxes before determining whether to provide them with a ballot that included the bond proposals. Some voters who live in the district but rent — and therefore who do not directly pay AISD taxes — may have been confused by the question, according to those officials.

Whether anyone is going to do anything about those concerns is still up in the air. Superintendent Dr. Fred Hayes said earlier this week the board would have to vote on any challenge to the results — a challenge that would have to start with a lawsuit filed in state district court. Along with those remarks, he said he’s like to see a re-vote on the proposals — a $21.5 million bond to build an elementary school and other projects, and a $3.75 measure to make various improvements at several campuses.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Hayes said through continued talks with school attorneys he learned the board isn’t permitted to challenge the election results. Instead, a member of the public would have to bring such a challenge.

Support Our Schools political action committee chairperson Sarah Grey attended the meeting. Her group last week sent an e-mail informing the Texas Secretary of State’s Office about what they felt were errors in the administration of the bond election. Grey said she plans to meet with Hayes next week to discuss how to proceed and about the chances her PAC might file suit.

On Wednesday, Hayes and Freeman met with State Senator Robert Nichols and State Representative Betty Brown regarding concerns about the election. Freeman and Hayes said both expressed their desire to see that every election is carried out in a proper manner.

Henderson County Elections Administrator Denise Hernandez acknowledged continued questions over the Athens school bond election when county commissioners canvassed votes Wednesday. She noted this was not only the first election carried out by the newly-created county elections division, but also the first administered under the Help America Vote Act. The act requires counties to contract with entities such as municipalities and school districts to conduct their elections. What that meant was election workers being forced to hand out multiple ballots at one voting precinct, in some cases.

School officials are searching for input from other voters who “may have experienced confusion with the procedures and process for the AISD bond proposals.”

They are seeking “persons who participated in the recent election either by absentee ballot, early voting at the courthouse, early voting evening opportunities at various AISD campuses or those who voted on Election Day who experienced an irregularity, voting discrepancy, or possible violation of the integrity of the voting process may contact the District Support Center.”

“If you did not have the bond propositions on your ballot and should have, or if you should not have had the bond propositions on your ballot and did have, please provide the district with this information,” read a statement issued Wednesday by the district. “Other possible situations would include voting by absentee ballot and not receiving the correct ballot for the location where you live, or receiving a ballot with the bond propositions and not actually living in the district; so you should not have received a ballot. Whether you voted by paper or electronic ballot, by mail or in person, early or on Election Day; if you feel that there was an irregularity or discrepancy, please contact Annette Faulk at 903-677-6905.”

Hernandez told commissioners she doesn’t feel errors committed at polling places would have affected any election outcomes. She also said some election night problems were slowed because election workers — who are appointed by the county Republican and Democratic parties and approved by commissioners court — did not follow instructions they received prior to election day. Some of the workers, she said, did not feel they needed to attend state-required training sessions.

“They felt that they’ve been doing it all these years and they didn’t have any more to learn,” Hernandez told commissioners Wednesday.

Science lab bid approved

In other action, the school board unanimously approved a proposal to make renovations for a Freshman Center Science Classroom. Based on a recommendation from PBK, an architecture, engineering, planning and facility consulting firm, board members approved a bid of $213,674 from Sawyers Construction Inc. to perform the renovations. Sawyers was chosen from three bids submitted for the project.

Superintendent’s evaluation set

The board agreed to meet in special session on Thursday, Dec. 4, to discuss a regular evaluation of Hayes’ job performance as superintendent. That meeting was set for 5 p.m. at the District Support Center on Hawn Street.

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