School board may switch to even-year elections

Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Instead of having the school board election this fall as planned, the district is considering switching from odd-year to even-year elections.

“It’s mainly about resources: money and staff time,” Superintendent Linda Madsen said.

Only 52 Minnesota school districts still hold elections on the odd year, when the cost falls totally on the district. In 2005 168 districts were electing board members on odd years.

Even-year elections are paid for mainly by the county, according to a letter from Greg Abbott, communications director for the Minnesota School Board Association.

Board members Erin Turner, Karen Morehead and Kathy Bystrom have terms ending Jan. 6 of 2014. Under the system in place, they would run in this fall’s election to continue on the board. Dan Kieger, Julie Corcoran, Gail Theisen and Rob Rapheal have terms expiring Jan. 4 of 2016, so they would be on the ballot in 2015. Switching to even-year elections now would add a year to everyone’s term.

The district’s average cost in past odd-year school board elections was about $35,000: $27,000 for voting machines, ballot printing and election judges, plus $8,000 for Administrative Assistant Diane Borle’s time, plus $2,000 to $3,000 for attorney costs.

Borle had been running elections for the district for about 20 years, but retired this year. The district is sending her replacement Connie Ramberg to training, and to build in redundancy in case of emergencies, is also training Sharon Dierkhising, assistant to Director of Business Services Larry Martini. Martini will also take on a larger role and is attending the training sessions from the county and the secretary of state.

Because of the transition, staff costs for the next school board election are predicted to reach $31,000. This number will decrease as new workers gain experience, but the projected cost for the school district to hold an election in November 2013 is $65,000.

Because of election deadlines, the board has had only one week to deliberate. The first reading of this topic was held at the June 20 school board meeting, and the decision will be made at the meeting on Thursday, June 27.

At the June 20 meeting, Karen Morehead said the school district made the move to odd-year elections so that voters would be well-informed.

Isolating the school board elections from other races is worth some money, she said. “In even years, people go there to vote for President. They may not have paid attention to the school board information.” Morehead will be absent from the June 27 vote.

Rob Raphael agreed, saying when he ran for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2004, as he knocked on doors, even weeks before the election, “people had no idea who I was, and weren’t concerned,” he said. “They asked, ‘Who you lookin’ for for president?’” But the school board is concerned about taxpayer expense, he said.

Kathy Bystrom said even though it is easier to run in an odd year, the most important consideration is the exorbitant expense. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Gail Theissen and Erin Turner agreed. “It’s too big of an expense,” Theissen said.

Turner said she was leaning toward switching to even-year elections because the $65,000 cost is known, while the advantages of keeping odd-year elections are conjecture.

The switch to even-year elections would not apply to school levies, just school board members.

Facilities costs

For seven elementary schools, Martini presented costs for repairs, replacements and improvements recommended by the facilities task force that met in the 2012-2013 academic year. Central Montessori, which is located at the Central Learning Center (CLC), was not included. The task force recommended tearing down the CLC and moving its programs to the building that houses Southwest Junior High. All junior high students would be part of the secondary school campus at the high school and Century Junior High.

Each elementary school list was divided into three priority levels, and a total was reported for just the highest priority items, for the top two levels, and for the entire list.

The total construction costs of everything in the elementary lists is $37,665,950. Adding 15 percent for contingencies, bonding and construction management brings the figure to $43,315,843.

For just the highest-ranked items the total cost, plus 15 percent, is $21,087,263.

More details about the elementary school lists will be presented in the July 4 edition of the Times.

The school board will hear costs for the secondary campus at the Oct. 10 meeting. The consensus on June 20 was to drop from consideration the idea of expanding Century Junior High to include all students in grades 7 to 9.

Instead, grades 7 and 8 would attend Century, while grades 9 to 12 would all go to an expanded high school building.

Academically, all curriculum standards and credits apply to grades 9 to 12.

Bystrom said that option also makes more sense developmentally. And this way only the high school would need expanding, not both the high school and Century.