School districts across the state would be required to hold their school board elections during the November general elections under legislation introduced by state Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) that is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Redistricting and Elections Committee.
House Bill (HB) 4005, one of the earliest introduced this legislative session, would amend Public Act (PA) 116 of 1954 to require the November school elections begin after Jan. 1, 2012. The proposed modifications would also strike out references in current law to May regular elections and the day on which candidates elected in those contests are sworn in.
The issue has been a thorn in the side of many school districts in the lakes area, although all of them have either switched to November general elections already or are in the process of doing so.
Huron Valley Schools became the most recent in the lakes area to begin the transition to November general elections.
Janet Roberts, the district’s director of community relations and fund development, said the bill would “not be a bad thing for (Huron Valley Schools) if it goes through” because the school board has already decided to move forward with a similar measure, albeit in a phased-in fashion, to yield cost savings for the district and align with other elections.
Peter Spadafore, the assistant director for government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards, said this “perennial issue” is actually “a solution in search of a problem.”
He said that 110 school districts across the state have already decided to move to November elections and that the MASB views the shift as a local decision “that boards at this point are making already in great numbers.”
Spadafore expressed concerns about, among other things, the fact that in a November election, non-partisan school board elections would be pushed farther down the ballot.
“You have folks coming who don’t necessarily know the (school board) candidates on the November ballot and voting,” Spadafore said, whereas May elections give the electorate a greater opportunity to learn about the candidates.
Staff in Heise’s office said school board elections can currently be held in the first Tuesday in either May, August or November. The bill, through the committee process, could eventually allow elections in August, although the staff member stressed that such a provision is only under consideration.
State Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Milford) said he can “absolutely” get behind the measure that has been proposed in the last several legislative cycles “unless this (would end up) costing the school a bloody fortune.”
“There were times when I almost missed an election because that one was the only one out there” on the ballot, Rogers said.
State Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake), while stressing that “school elections are very important,” said the legislation is “definitely” something she supports.
“More districts are moving that way,” she said. “We’ve had instances where we’ve had one school board member running unopposed” and that being the only contest on the ballot.
However, State Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) had a slightly different take on the legislation. She said schools understand that in the current economy, money is a precious commodity.
“My problem is that Waterford Schools already does this,” she said. “They are incredibly well-managed and, while I don’t know the new superintendent that well, (former superintendent) Rob Neu was almost visionary.
“It’s difficult for me to weigh in strongly on this because my school district already does it, but I will certainly review it before it comes up for a vote,” Haines said.
State Rep. Chuck Moss (R-Orchard Lake) said he is “kind of sympathetic” to the issue of mandating November school board elections. He said school districts’ calls for increased funding are unpersuasive when saving money by holding November school board elections sometimes falls on deaf ears.
“What’s wrong with voting for school board members when we vote for everything else?” he asked.