OUR VIEW: Consider even-year school board elections, wardsThere was an election last Tuesday, and very few people showed up for it — 6.3 percent of registered voters to be exact.
There was an election last Tuesday, and very few people showed up for it — 6.3 percent of registered voters to be exact.
Don’t worry, even if you didn’t show up you were still part of the election because you paid for it. The election cost the district about $27,500, an amount that could be cut significantly if School District 833 held its elections on even-numbered years.
Switching to even-year elections would lower the cost and likely increase voter turnout for school board elections. For these reasons, we think it’s an obvious move for the district to make.
Elections cost as much as they do because the district must pay for election judges and ballots. But when multiple elections are held, such as city and county elections, those costs can be shared.
Theoretically the benefit of off-year elections is that they allow local issues to take the spotlight, and lower-level candidates don’t have to fight for attention against state and federal candidates.
In an ideal world, off-year school board elections would mean more informed voters.
But in the real world, without the noise of the other races, few people pay attention to contests like the school board, and this one race apparently doesn’t provide enough motivation for many to make a trip to the polls on a November Tuesday.
Another aspect of this most recent election that might discourage some of our voters from casting their ballots in school board elections is the feeling that their voice is squelched because they live in a less populous part of the district.
In this year’s school board race the lone Newport candidate — Katy McElwee-Stevens — ranked third in the combined votes of Cottage Grove, Newport and St. Paul Park residents, but she ranked seventh among all the district’s voters.
South Washington County is a very economically diverse district. To ensure the school board reflects the district’s diversity, the board, and interested residents, may want to consider exploring the possibility of ward-based representation rather than a board made up entirely of at-large members.
If some semblance of a ward system was instituted into the make-up of the board, Newport and St. Paul Park may have a greater chance to have someone from their area representing them on the board. Of course if you’re from Woodbury that may not be in your best interest. But even in Woodbury, the concerns of residents from one side of town may be very different than the concerns from those in another. A ward system may help bring a better diversity of views to the board.
According to the latest available population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the city of Woodbury’s population is 16,000 higher than that of Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport combined.
We’re not claiming to have evidence that Woodbury interests dominate the board now, but we’re pointing out that the door is open for that to happen under the current system.
Although the at-large representation model appears to be most commonly used by school districts in the Twin Cities metro, the Anoka-Hennepin School District does use the ward system. And the school communities in Bloomington and Minneapolis have discussed the issue in the past.
Whether the ward system is the best fit for District 833 School Board is not certain. But we feel it would be a healthy topic of interest and we encourage the board, school district officials and residents to engage in the discussion.