Should school board elections abandon ward voting? Charter Commission to decide

Published: 02/06/2022 23:03:17

Modified: 06/02/2022 23:01:36

The issue of hyper-local school representation will be on the table at Tuesday’s Charter Commission meeting when members vote to recommend changes to the composition of the Concord School Board.

Commissioners are seeking public input on whether to amend the district charter document to elect Concord School Board’s nine nominees citywide rather than by ward. Currently, the school board is made up of two members from District A (Wards 1, 2, 3, and 4), two from District B (Wards 5, 6, and 7), two from District C (Wards 8, 9, and 10), and three extraordinary members who represent the entire city. This configuration was established when the last Charter Commission met in 2010, changing the previous system which elected all members at large.

Any recommended changes would be presented to voters on Election Day 2022.

Some commissioners say one of the benefits of returning to a general election system is that it could attract more school board candidates to run if there are no geographic restrictions. Some also argued that in practice school board members already represent the entire city, so there is no need to elect by ward.

“Anything we can do to make sure the Concord School Board has a chance to be attractive to the best minds in this community is what I want to do,” said commission chair Betty Hoadley. at a meeting on February 1. “We have to give Concord School Board members every piece of equipment, every tool, every challenge to win the job and do it right.

But others argue that ward voting ensures candidates know their neighbors, and a blanket system could lead to a disproportionate number of board members from certain areas of the city. Hoadley recalled some tongue-in-cheek remarks made at the 2010 Charter Commission meeting about the school board bringing in too many “Ward 5 lawyers.”

“There’s this feeling that this person, maybe if they live in their area, there’s a connection,” Commissioner Tracey Lesser said. “Keeping things smaller, keeping things local is important. We don’t have as much diversity in school population as we do, and we need to make it an opportunity to vote or run to represent who our district is today.

There were also discussions at the Feb. 1 meeting about whether neighborhood voting makes it harder or easier for people with “extremist views,” supported by political interest groups, d to get seats on school boards.

However, most commissioners said they did not feel inclined to change the current system unless many members of the public had a strong case for the general vote. There will be a comment period at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We haven’t heard a cry from the community to change that,” Commissioner Nancy Kane said. “…I don’t know why we would try to fix something that doesn’t seem to be a problem.”

If the current ward vote is upheld, the commissioners will also vote on whether to change the current ratio of ward reps to at-large reps on council.

The nine-member charter commission will decide in meetings over the next few months whether to make changes to the district’s charter document and will finalize any proposed changes in the spring. Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners will discuss whether to increase school board member stipends and whether to require in writing that school board nominees be residents of the neighborhood they present to represent. All proposed changes will go to voters.

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