While the idea of saving money on holding separate school board elections was laudable, the Mankato school board’s decision to extend terms of school board members without voters weighing in is unfair and unwise.
The board approved a resolution on a 5-1 vote to move its odd year elections to even years in connection with general elections and extend the terms of all board members by one year. Board Member Abdi Sabrie voted no and Board Member Kristi Schuck was absent.
Sabrie voted against extending the terms because he argued it would delay the opportunity for new members of the diverse community and others to win a seat on the board. We agree. Four board seats were up for election this year. Now those seeking those positions must wait another year.
The even-year elections will save the school district about $38,000 because the county can take over election administration.
State law allows school districts to move elections in this way, noting it should provide proper notice and develop a plan for “orderly transition,” which, the law says, can include extending terms of school board members by a year or, when a seat is open, reducing the term by a year.
But beyond just giving the voters more of a chance to weigh in, the idea that board members would vote on extending their own terms is a conflict of interest. The resolution could have still been approved if members abstained from voting on their own terms but voted for terms of others.
It makes sense to hold school board elections at the same time as the general election because the turnout will be higher. Odd-year elections drew turnout of 5 percent while even-year elections garnered a turnout rate near 83 percent.
We also favor putting school bond referendums in a general election year as well so those questions can be decided with the help of a robust voter turnout.
While some school board members worried that school board elections would get less attention or lost in the general election, that shouldn’t be the primary concern. Voters have a duty to cast an informed vote but there’s no law requiring it.
As trust in government erodes, elected bodies must be careful to ensure they are representing the voters in all that they do. Voters lost when school board members voted to extend their own terms.