A bill in the Missouri Legislature proposes to move school board elections from April to November of even-numbered election years in order to increase voter turnout, but school board leaders have reservations about the idea.
Mike Reid, associate executive director of advocacy for the Missouri School Boards Association, mentioned House Bill 1424 in his legislative update this month to the Jefferson City Public Schools Board of Education.
He agreed with the aim of bill sponsor state Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee's Summit, to increase voter turnout for school board elections, but said school board elections belong with other municipal elections in April.
With a move to November, he said, "I'm afraid that school board elections would get lost in the shuffle of everything that's going on, and I think we would lose our identity," adding MSBA's position is the bill should be defeated.
Reid clarified last week he's concerned about decreased voter turnout for school board elections and the introduction of political partisanship should school board elections move to November.
The News Tribune reached out to Roeber for further comment but did not immediately receive a response.
Races for the presidency, governorships, and state and congressional seats are all on the ballots in Novembers of even-numbered years.
"We have enough politics already in our board elections, and they're in April. This is a bad, bad idea and will only encourage candidates to align with a political party for campaign contributions and support," JCPS Board President Steve Bruce tweeted last Sunday, tagging state Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, in the tweet.
Roeber's bill does more than propose to move the date of school board elections, though.
The bill would also extend the term of Missouri school board members from three years to four for every member elected in 2020 and thereafter.
"Any school board member whose term expires in 2019 or any other odd-numbered year shall continue to serve until the election in the following even-numbered year. The term of any board member serving a term as of January 1, 2019 may be lengthened in accordance with this section but shall not be shortened," the bill reads.
"In an even-numbered year, the number of school board seats to be elected shall be equal to those with terms that would have expired in the previous odd-numbered year and those with terms expiring in such even-numbered year," it adds.
Reid said this means school board members would be elected five and then two at a time. "We think that would cause some havoc with the board," he said of that kind of turnover.
Missouri is not the only state where such discussions about school board elections have been happening.
The backer of a bill in the Idaho Senate that would move school board elections from May to November testified last month that increased voter turnout would improve public education in the state.
The Spokane, Washington, Spokesman-Review reported Idaho state Sen. Mary Souza, R-Couer d'Alene, said the rationale for her three-year effort is "parent, family and community involvement in schools 'correlates with higher academic performance and school improvement.'"
Souza originally proposed moving school board elections to the November general elections in even-numbered years to increase voter turnout, but "school board members both in Coeur d'Alene and across the state strongly opposed having their non-partisan elections moved into that mix."
The compromise reached so far is Souza's proposal would move school board elections to November in odd-numbered years — when Idaho holds non-partisan city elections.
The Springfield State Journal-Register reported last May about a revived attempt in the Illinois Legislature to move school board elections from the spring to general elections in the fall.
"When we talk about property taxes, the No. 1 thing on your property tax bill is your schools, and we are having no voter participation," bill sponsor state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, said.
Republicans in the Illinois Legislature, though, questioned if voters would have time to educate themselves or if local media would have time to report on local candidates in addition to candidates for statewide and national offices, according to a report from the Chicago-based Pioneer Press newspaper chain. Legislators also had concerns about the introduction of partisanship to school board races.
The Kansas Legislature took up the issue of moving municipal elections in 2015, according to the Wichita Eagle last year, "But the idea of combining federal, state and local races into one ballot drew a strong pushback from local elected officials, fearful that their races would be influenced by national politics or simply forgotten at the end of a long ballot."
"Lawmakers eked out a bare majority to shift elections from the spring to the fall, but in odd-numbered years," the report added.