Should school board elections drop ward voting? Charter Commission to decide

  • The Concord School District Charter Commission meets in the district board room Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Eileen O'Grady

Monitor staff
Published: 2/6/2022 11:03:17 PM

The question of hyper-local school representation will be on the table at Tuesday’s Charter Commission meeting when members will vote whether to recommend changes to the makeup of the Concord School Board.

Commissioners are looking for public input on the topic of whether to change the district charter document to elect all nine Concord School Board candidates citywide rather than by ward. Currently, the school board is comprised of two members from District A (Wards 1, 2, 3 and 4), two from District B (Wards 5, 6 and 7), two from District C (Wards 8, 9 and 10) and three at-large members who represent the whole city. That configuration was established when the last Charter Commission convened in 2010, changing the previous system which had elected all members at large.

Any recommended change would go before voters on Election Day 2022.

A benefit of returning to an at-large election system, according to some commissioners, is that it could attract more school board candidates to run if there are no geographic restrictions. Some also argued that in practice, school board members already represent the whole city so electing by ward isn’t necessary.

“Whatever we can do to ensure that the Concord School Board has a chance to be attractive to the finest minds in this community is what I want to do,” commission president Betty Hoadley said at a meeting Feb. 1. “We have to give the Concord School Board members every equipment, every tool, every challenge to win the job and do it right.”

But others argue that ward voting ensures candidates know their neighbors, and an at-large system could lead to a disproportionate number of board members from some regions of town. Hoadley recalled some tongue-in-cheek remarks made at the 2010 Charter Commission assembly about the school board attracting too many “lawyers from Ward 5.”

“There’s this feeling that that person, maybe if they live in their area, there’s a connection,” said commissioner Tracey Lesser. “Keeping things smaller, keeping things local is important. We don’t have as much diversity compared to the school population that we have, and we need to make it an opportunity to vote or run to represent who our district is now.”

There was also discussion at the Feb. 1 meeting over whether ward voting makes it harder or easier for people with “extremist views,” backed by political interest groups, to obtain school board seats.

However, most commissioners said they don’t feel inclined to change the current system unless many members of the public have strong arguments in favor of at-large voting. There will be a comment period at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We have heard no hue and cry from the community whatsoever to change that,” commissioner Nancy Kane said. “...I’m not sure why we would be trying to fix something that does not appear to be a problem.”

If the current ward voting is upheld, commissioners will also vote on whether to change the current ratio of ward to at-large representatives on the board.

The nine-member Charter Commission will decide at meetings over the next several months whether to make changes to the district’s charter document, and will finalize any proposed changes in the spring.  Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners will discuss whether to increase school board members’ stipends, and whether to require in writing that school board candidates be residents of the ward they’re running to represent. All proposed changes will go to voters.

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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