Wednesday, March 26, 2008

School Board Terms May Go To 4 Years

School Board Terms May Go To 4 Years

School board terms are likely to lengthen to four years and special elections will be fewer and farther between, under legislation that has passed both houses of the Iowa Legislature. The proposed legislation would also test out “voting centers” in low turnout elections.

House File 2620
passed the House Monday and headed to the Senate, where the similar but not identical Senate File 2312 passed earlier.

Some school officials opposed the four-year terms out of concern that a board majority could turn over at one election. But Patti Fields of the Iowa City school board backs the legislation. “It is hard enough to find candidates to run to make the elections competitive, let alone four to knock off four,” she said.

“41 states have school board terms of 4 years or more.” Fields told Iowa Independent. “It can take two to three years for school board members to get a good understanding on how things work and run, and a four year term actually gives members a year or two to really work effectively. Right now it is possible to have a new board member every year, and that can have its disadvantages.”

Fields also said auditors are very supportive of the bill as it would reduce the workload of school elections in even numbered years, which fall less than two months before general elections.

Fields, who is completing her first three-year term this year, said her main reason for supporting the bill is the money involved. “Locally it is $10,000 to 12,000 a year, but as a state it is a million dollars a year,” she said. “I do not believe that we are being good stewards of tax dollars holding elections every fall for a possible 5 percent voter turnout.”

One step that might increase that turnout is the voting center provision of the bill. Voting centers would allow voters to vote on Election Day in a precinct other than the one in which they live, such as a polling place they drive by on the way to or from work. The provision is designed to test out the voting center concept in lower turnout city and school elections, and would not apply to primary and general elections.

Under both versions of the legislation, ballot measures would have to be held either with regular elections or on predetermined dates during the year. In Johnson County in 2004, five cities held nearly identical cable franchise elections on three separate dates. With the primary and school elections thrown in, this meant an election a month during the run-up to the presidential election.

The bill would also codify the agreement between the Secretary of State and small political parties that has, since January 1, included the Greens and Libertarians on voter registration forms. Minor parties need to have run a candidate for statewide office in the last ten years and get 850 signatures on a petition to qualify for “political organization” status. They can lose that status if statewide registration drops below 150.

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