Tuesday, May 03, 2016

TOP STORY >> School voting requires a fix by legislature

Leader staff writer

Sometimes a law meant to do good or be helpful turns out to cause more problems than it cured.

“We call that ‘unintentional consequences,’” said state Rep. Camille Bennett (D-Lonoke).

One of those laws that she says needs to be tweaked during this session is the one that allows school boards to hold their election in conjunction with the general election.

“The law doesn’t require them to do it, but says they may. But since the legislature passed the law, we’ve seen that it actually causes three problems, including possibly violating another state law,” the representative said.

She explained that there is a law that requires school board elections to be conducted on their own separate ballot.

“That means during the general election you would stand in line to receive your ballot for president, governor, mayor, alderman, etc., cast your vote and then have to get into another line to get a different ballot for the school board choices.”

Bennett also said state law requires school board elections to take place in the school or district precincts and general election polling sites may differ. Thirdly, she said in making the move, the new law would actually put much of the general election cost onto the school district. “And that was definitely not our intent,” she said.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) said he understands the reasoning behind moving it to the general election. “It’s an effort to save money and to get more people voting. But the school board issue,” Johnson said, “would get lost in the bigger races. School board races are really at the grassroots. You don’t want to lose the identity and intent of the school board candidates.”

Johnson added another reason not to tie in the school board elections with the general elections has to do with timing. “We elect public officials in November to take office in January, but schools don’t run on a January to January calendar. They run summer to summer, and you don’t want your school board elected almost three months into a school year.”

Johnson said, “We spend a lot of time in the legislature dealing with these unintended consequences.”

Bennett said part of the issue is the illogical manner in which the legislature meets.

“We try to get so much done in a short period of time that the research is not always done,” she said.

She suggests the legislature to meet for a full week every month. “That would give us time to look at long-range consequences and not rush everything,” she said.