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By J SWYGART
Okay, we’re gonna start today’s entry with something a little different — a disclaimer; a warning of sorts. Today’s column will take a look at how the North Adams school board later this year will begin its metamorphosis from an appointed body into an elected one. It’s a complex and complicated transition formula. We’ll try to break it down into simplistic terms, but there’s a 50-50 chance we will fail miserably.
So if you don’t give a hoot about the local school board, or aren’t in the mood to wade through some frankly confusing gobbledygook, well ... perhaps you should just move along.
For those of you still here, this much is certain. Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, the North Adams school board will swell from the current five-member make-up to a seven-member body. We could spend the rest of this column expounding on why that in itself is a bad idea, but that ship has already sailed. It’s gonna happen, so we’ll just move on.
Of those seven, non-partisan board members, four will be elected later this year during the November general election. At some point in the not-too-distant future, all elected members will win four-year terms on the board. Just not yet. But we’re getting ahead of ourself. More on that in a bit.
The new board by-laws state that three of the seven members must reside in District 1 of the North Adams school district, which lies within the corporation limits of the city of Decatur. Three members must live in District 2, which includes Union, Root and Preble townships and the northern two miles of Washington Township, outside the city of Decatur. The remaining member of the board will be at-large and may reside anywhere in the school district.
Candidates running for a board seat must file a petition with the Adams County Clerk which states the district in which the candidate resides. Petitions, which will be accepted at the clerk’s office beginning July 25, must be signed by the candidate and 10 registered voters residing within the North Adams Community Schools district. Beginning in 2016 (we think) the even-year school board voting will alternate between electing three and four members.
It’s what happens between now and 2016 where things get a little murky. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to address individual board seats in terms of which member currently occupies that seat. Even though Decatur City Council and a group of township trustees will make new appointments to the board in the coming month or so, we’ll deal for now with the current seat-holders.
The current North Adams school board lineup includes:
• Tim Ehlerding - a District 1 resident whose term expires June 30, 2014.
• Deb Bergman - a District 2 resident whose term expires June 30, 2014.
• Michelle Stimpson - a District 2 resident whose term ends June 30, 2012.
• Ben Faurote - a District 1 resident whose term ends June 30, 2012.
• Don Elder - a District 1 resident who holds the so-called “swing seat” and whose term ends June 30, 2015.
According to the new board by-laws approved by the State of Indiana, at the general election to be held in November of 2012, four members of the school board will be elected — two each from Districts 1 and 2.
The candidate from District 1 who receives the highest number of votes will take office on Jan. 1, 2013 to begin a new four-year term. The candidate receiving the second highest number of votes will succeed an already-appointed board member and will take office on July 1, 2014, to begin an 18-month term that ends Dec. 31, 2016.
The appointed District 1 board member under this scenario is Ehlerding, which creates yet another odd possibility. If Ehlerding opts to place his name on the ballot this fall — and should he be the top vote-getter among District 1 candidates — he would be elected to a new seat on the board, which carries a full four-year term. In turn, Ehlerding would be forced to resign his current appointed seat, creating a new vacancy which would be filled through an appointment by sitting school board members for the duration of Ehlerding’s unexpired term.
Are you still with us? Okay, there’s more. If Ehlerding hypothetically were to be the second-highest vote-getter in District 1 this November (and we have no insight into his future intentions) he would automatically be elected to an 18-month extension of his current board seat. If he were to finish third or lower among the District 1 candidates, his term would expire on June 30, 2014, and a newly-elected board member would take over for the shortened 18-month term.
The scenario is identical in District 2, with sitting board member Bergman filling the same role that Ehlerding does in District 1. In the more immediate future, the seats currently held by Faurote and Stimpson will be filled shortly by final four-year appointments from Decatur City Council and the township trustees. The new appointees will serve those terms in their entirety.
At the general election to be held in November of 2014, three members of the board will be elected as follows:
— One from District 1, who shall succeed the appointed board member whose term expires on June 30, 2016 (currently Faurote).
— One from District 2, who shall succeed the appointed board member whose term expires on June 30, 2016 (currently Stimpson).
— One at-large, who shall succeed the appointed board member whose term expires on June 30, 2015 (currently Elder).
So there you have it. Clear as mud, isn’t it?
The fight to change the way North Adams school board members has been a long, drawn-out one, but those efforts will soon begin paying dividends.
Increasing the accountability of board members was the primary impetus behind the elected-board movement. Whether or not that will be the result remains to be seen. But the switch was long over-due, and if there are some growing pains during the transition, it seems a small price to pay.
The writer is the opinion page editor of the Decatur Daily Democrat.