Concord School District voters face big questions on November ballot

  • Concord School District Building Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 10/10/2022 5:16:02 PM
Modified: 10/10/2022 5:15:52 PM

Besides picking candidates for school board on Election Day in November, Concord residents will also be making some once-in-a decade decisions about the school district. 

This year’s ballot will feature a list of five questions posed by the Concord School District Charter Commission that ask residents to weigh in on several ways the school district functions. 

The nine-member Charter Commission was assembled in November 2021 – 10 years after the first Charter Commission convened in 2010, to review and amend the charter, the school district’s governing document that functions like a constitution and contains rules around school board elections, the school budget process and more. The commissioners met from November 2021  to June 2022 to debate possible changes and improvements to the document before officially disbanding in August. Their list of proposed ballot questions was approved by the New Hampshire Attorney General, Secretary of State and Commissoner of the Department of Revenue Administration in June.

“Where the charter can become important is when there are conflicts,” Charter Commissioner Bill Ardinger said in a presentation to the Concord School Board on Oct. 3. “Across the country there’s more and more conflicts in elections and governance, especially for public school boards. Our task, this particular Charter Commission, was really to come to the table to make sure the rules for this unbelievably wonderful public school district were clear and were clean and that they were ready to navigate through waters that hopefully will never get as controversial as they have in some other school districts across the country.”

School board stipends and local representation

One of the five proposed changes would authorize Concord School Board members to set their own stipend. Currently, school board members are paid the same amount as Concord city councilors – $1,000 per year – but the amendment would allow the School Board to establish the amount themselves. The purpose of the change, according to charter commissioners, is to acknowledge the school board’s independence from the City Council and to give the option of higher pay, which could entice a wider range of candidates. The stipend would have to be set before Election Day, to discourage members from abusing their power to set an inappropriately high salary.

One of the ballot questions will ask voters to approve using the phrase “school voting zone” instead of “district” during school board elections. Currently, school board members are elected from one of three city “districts,” A, B and C, with District A representing Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4, District B representing Wards 5, 6 and 7 and District C representing Wards 8, 9 and 10. Charter Commission members decided “voting district” is too easily confused with “school district,” and are proposing calling the groupings Zones A, B and C instead.

The second part of the same question asks voters to approve a rule that when a Concord School Board member moves out of the zone they represent, they must give up their seat and the other School Board members must appoint a new member to fill the vacancy. The appointed member would serve until the end of the calendar year, and the position would be taken over by a newly-elected member. The purpose of adding the rule to the charter is to ensure that school board members live in the neighborhoods they represent.

Another question adds language to the charter requiring the school district clerk and treasurer to be selected “in accordance with state law,” which in this case is by ballot vote. The Commission had originally wanted the Concord School Board to appoint its own clerk and treasurer directly, but the state Attorney General’s Office nixed that suggestion during the draft review process.

While Commissioners had argued that Concord is exempt from RSA 671:6, a state law requiring clerks and treasurers to be elected, the state disagreed, saying that while the district is unique in many ways, it’s not unique enough to be exempt from that law. Commissioners, dissatisfied, added a passage to the charter saying that if the state law changes in the future, the School Board should switch to appointing those positions.

Editing for the future

Another ballot question asks how to revise the charter document in the future. While the 2010 Charter Commission required another Charter Commission to convene in 10 years to revise the charter, this year’s Charter Commission won’t be setting that expectation. Instead, commissioners are proposing that School Board members can revise the Charter themselves with a three-fifths majority, they can put an amendment on the ballot for voters with a seven-member majority, and they can establish a new Charter Commission to revise the document with a six-member majority.

Another question will ask whether to eliminate “obsolete references” from the document, a decision that would allow Commissioners to edit out references to events from 10 years ago, including mention of the law that authorized the creation of the original charter document and the establishment of the Charter commission in 2010, and language that refers to the 2012 election, all references the Charter Commission members have decided is outdated.

The questions will be on the ballot for Concord residents on Election Day Nov. 8.

Eileen O

Eileen O'Grady is a Report for America corps member covering education for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. O’Grady is the former managing editor of Scope magazine at Northeastern University in Boston, where she reported on social justice issues, community activism, local politics and the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a native Vermonter and worked as a reporter covering local politics for the Shelburne News and the Citizen. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Globe, U.S. News & World Report, The Bay State Banner, and VTDigger. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and a bachelor’s degree in politics and French from Mount Holyoke College, where she served as news editor for the Mount Holyoke News from 2017-2018.

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