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NA elected board issue to ballot?

February 9, 2011

Scott Ainsworth

    A formal proposal calling for members of the North Adams Community School's board of education to be elected, rather than appointed as is currently the case, has been submitted to the Adams County Clerk of Courts and could be headed for a general election vote in 2012.
    During Tuesday evening's North Adams school board meeting it was announced that the Our Children Our Future committee, spearheaded by Decatur residents Charlie and Jean Brune, had filed a petition with the clerk's office containing the number of names necessary to push the drive for an elected board toward a public vote.
    The Our Children Our Future petition calls for an elected, seven-member, non-partisan school board. The North Adams school district, for purposes of board representation, would be divided into two districts: District One, consisting of the municipal boundaries of Decatur, and District Two, consisting of the remainder of the school corporation in Union, Root, Preble and northern Washington townships.
    Under the proposal, three board members would be elected from each of the two districts, with a seventh, at-large member eligible to reside anywhere in the school district. Each would serve four-year terms.
    Candidates would be required to be 18 years of age or older and must have resided in the school district for at least one year.
    The petition spells out a staggered election formula during a prolonged transition period that would seat the first elected board member in 2013.
    According to school board attorney Scott Ainsworth, the clerk of courts will now begin the task of certifying the signatures on that petition. If the 1,800-plus signatures —representing the required 20 percent of the registered voters in the school district — are certified, the document will be forwarded to the board of education.
    At that point, said Ainsworth, the board's options are simple: accept the document and move toward its implementation, or reject it and allow district voters to make that decision. Any board action, which could happen as early as next month, would start a 120-day window during which "the public could add its two cents worth," said the attorney.
    Ainsworth said any community group wishing to submit an alternate plan for seating an elected school board would need to gather the required 1,800 signatures and submit that proposal to the clerk of courts. If certified by the courts, any alternate plan would also be placed on a general election ballot.
    Also, the attorney said, any group seeking to retain the status quo —to reject the proposal for an elected board and keep the current appointment method in place — would need to collect 500 signatures to have that concept added to the ballot.
    School board members on Tuesday did not take official action, but did offer some insight into their thought process.
    "I like the general spirit of this (petition)," said Tim Ehlerding. "The concept of an elected board is one I'm very much for. I would like the board to give consideration to declaring ourselves an elected board and avoid going through this process."
    But veteran board member Juan Gutierrez, as he has maintained throughout previous discussions surrounding an elected board, said the decision should remain in the hands of the voting public.
    "Let the community decide what they want," Gutierrez said.

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