Residents seek to keep voice on school board
More than 70 people attended Monday night's Baldwin School District board meeting, most to oppose a request to eliminate the boundaries from which board members are elected, in favor of an at-large seven-member board.
It is an issue that would require the vote of the community in a general or special election. With no motion or vote from the board after nearly an hour of emotional public comment, the only way the issue can be placed on November's general election ballot is through a petition. And that is how Betty Bullock, Patti Michalowski and other community members intend to get it there.
Bullock and Michalowski asked the board to put the question of a seven-member board on the November ballot. They say the Baldwin, Marion Springs and Vinland districts are disproportionate in size and population, and therefore violate state law.
Bullock said any boundaries are divisive more than just physically, and favors an at-large district over changing the districts to be more proportionate.
""It is still division," she said. "Our intent is to build unity. We believe service to the community is decided by more than where you live."
Residents of the Marion Springs and Vinland areas are ready to fight any challenge to their representation on the school board. Currently, the school district is represented by two members each from Baldwin, Marion Springs and Vinland and an at-large member.
"The only thing I see divisive here is this proposal," said Jay Pratt from the Marion Springs area. "I see a community that stands behind its school system."
Pratt was joined by at least a dozen others who spoke in favor of representation from Baldwin's rural communities.
"The Vinland school is the hub of the Vinland area, as I am sure Marion Springs is the hub of that area," said Cheryl Chamberlin. "We so strongly believe that is the way it should be."
There were other concerns, as well. Jane Schwartz said name recognition brings people to the polls, and voters may not turn out at all if they don't know some of the candidates from outlying areas. Chris Brandenberger feared pursuit of a petition and an election would create an "ununified" district.
Most of all, the concerned citizens did not want to lose a voice on the board a voice that understands their rural choice of life and makes the decisions in the best interest of all district students.
"I see a need for representation from our areas due to the fact that it is a familiar face," Schwartz said.
Gloria Roach, Vinland, agreed.
"I think what each school needs is representation," she said, her few minutes of words winning a standing ovation. Roach's children attended Vinland Elementary School. "The school board member that represented Vinland knew me personally. They spent time at Vinland, at meetings, listening to people."
Roach said it almost takes someone with children who went to outlying schools to understand the need for representation for Vinland and Marion Springs.
"I think, just like the government, we need representatives from each state because they live there," Roach said. "That is what we need here. I feel it is important we have someone that represents Vinland. It is so very important that these outlying schools are represented."
Grace Schroer simply asked who wanted board member elections to remain unchanged. All but a few stood up.
"I think things should stay the way they are," said Jim Schultze. "I think if it goes on the ballot, it needs to be because a lot of people want it, and that would take a petition."
The petition was mailed Tuesday to the Kansas State Board of Education for review, Bullock said, and then will be filed with Douglas County Clerk Patty Jaimes. A copy also was filed with the Baldwin school district office. At least 243 valid signatures must be collected within 90 days of the petition's circulation for the issue to be placed on the November ballot. The number of signatures needed is 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent general election.
Board members, although they didn't vote, discussed the issue and most comments were similar to those of the Vinland and Marion Springs residents.
"I feel the way it is has always given a good balance to the board," said Roger Arnold, who is serving his 13th year as a board member.
Board president Ed Schulte also favored representation from Vinland and Marion Springs.
"It is an emotional issue," Schulte said. "I do think there are some valid issues to having representation. It is a choice between how we are elected and who we represent.
"There is an opportunity for change every two years," he said, referring to a vote for school board members.