Sunday, February 20, 2011

Changing the way Concord School Board members are elected

I wrote the following note to members of the Concord School Board Charter Commission last night. This is the corrected version. I would encourage you all to contact them as well:

Since I will probably not be able to attend Tuesday’s meeting, I just wanted to send a short email supporting Mike Donovan’s proposal for a new process for electing Concord School Board members.

As some of you may already know, I had mixed feelings about state. Rep. Steve Shurtleff’s proposal in 2008 to move completely to Ward elections for school board members. I felt it had negative and positive aspects. And I also believe that the current way of electing school board members is inherently flawed. However, having read Donovan’s proposal, I feel this is an excellent alternative to the previous proposal by Shurtleff and the current structure we use to elect members.

First, the proposal allows for a mix of opportunities for candidates, ones who have city-wide support and local Ward support. Lowering the threshold of election by running in three wards instead of at-large should encourage greater participation and will be more inclusive than the current process. Since the election would be more manageable, more people will probably run. The process works very well in electing our state representatives and city councilors (although there is always room for more competition, in my mind).

Second, having the elections held on odd numbered years eliminates what I have termed “the lemming effect,” essentially, thousands of people voting because of the presidential or congressional election cycle, randomly casting votes for school board candidates based on nothing more than names they recognize or the color of a person’s shirt at the polls. This proposal will equalize the process. Also, in the past, there have been huge discrepancies in the number of votes it takes to get elected. For example, in 2007, a municipal election, the three winners of board seats won with between 1,901 and 2,814 votes. A year later, a presidential election, the winners received between 6,480 and 7,086. In 2009, all the incumbents won against a ghost candidate, with between 1,297 and 1,953 votes. Again in 2010, three incumbents were elected with between 8,545 and 9,384 votes, with no challengers. The difference in votes is based on turnout but it is staggering because, essentially, thousands more people determined the outcome of who won in one year over the previous year. Granted, if voters don't bother to vote, then they cost themselves representation. But still, the fact that one year it only takes 1,300 votes to win and then another year it takes more than 6,000 is a serious problem which will be fixed with this proposal.

Third, running both on the district level and at-large ensures that every neighborhood of the city is represented on the school board. This has been a problem in the past. In 2009, for example, a quick analysis of the school board membership revealed that a third of the nine, came from Ward 4. Wards 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10, each had one member each. This meant that five members - or more than half – at the time, lived in the Kimball/Walker School District. There was no representation from Ward 2 or 8, meaning the Beaver Meadow and Dame elementary schools had no one from their districts or neighborhoods representing them on the board [No one represented Ward 1 either but most people who live in Ward 1 send their kids to the Merrimack Valley School District]. Today, Wards 1 and 2 are still not represented and there are three members from Ward 5. This proposal would open up opportunities for broadening neighborhood representation.

This is an excellent proposal with an acceptable timeline to implement the plan over a number of years. I encourage you to support this proposal.

Charter commission member emails:

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