School officials like SB 7 but urge vigilance

A bill that would allow school boards to change when they elect their officers received positive testimony from school board members on Wednesday, although they also urged school officials to stay alert to developments on the legislation because it could be amended. 

As written, SB 7 wouldn’t impact when school board elections are held but would allow school boards to move when they elect their officers, such as president and vice president, from July to January.  

State Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, told the Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee that the measure is designed to fix “unintended consequences” of the 2015 law that moved school board elections from the spring of even-numbered years to the fall of odd-numbered years. 

The change in the law meant that school board members were elected in November but didn’t elect their board president, vice president and other officers until July. SB 7 would allow boards, if they wanted, to elect their officers in January. 

“This bill offers welcomed flexibility for local school boards challenged by circumstances with changes to local municipal election law passed in 2015,” said Mary Sinclair, a member of the Shawnee Mission USD 512 board. 

Karla Hagemeister, a member of the Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 board, also spoke in favor of the bill giving boards the option of changing when to elect officers. “Having flexibility and local control in the election of officers would be beneficial to the institutional health of our organizations,” she said. 

Patrick Woods, president of KASB and a member of the Topeka USD 501 board, testified as neutral on behalf of KASB. “Due to varying responses by local boards, our organization does not have special legislative policy on the election date of board officers. We do, however, strongly support the doctrine of local control and appreciate SB 7 providing for local designation of a date for election of officers, following an organizational meeting in January or early February,” Woods said.

State Sen. Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, chair of the committee, said she expected that the committee would work on the bill in the next couple of weeks. 

Sinclair, Hagemeister and Woods urged school leaders to stay up to date on developments of the bill and especially be on the lookout for any attempts to make school board elections partisan. When the date for board elections was changed in 2015, there were legislators who were pushing for changing the board election system from non-partisan to partisan elections. 

“It is really critical that this bill remain non-partisan,” as far as the election of school board members, Sinclair said. 

A Facebook Live conversation on the bill can be seen here.

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