Bentonville School Board members debate election date

Posted: November 7, 2017 at 1 a.m.

BENTONVILLE -- The School Board couldn't reach a consensus Monday over whether to hold its next election in spring or fall of next year.

School boards statewide must decide whether to hold board elections in May or November of next year, the result of a law passed this year.

Election dates

Next year’s school board elections may be held on either the date of the preferential primaries, May 22, or the date of the general election, which will be Nov. 6.

Source: Staff report

Annual school board elections have been held the third Tuesday of September for decades. They now must be the same day as preferential primaries in the spring or the general election in November.

Superintendent Debbie Jones said her administration's recommendation to go with the November date was in accordance with a recommendation from the Benton County Election Commission, but added, "It is strictly a board decision."

The law sets forth that whichever date a board chooses, that board may not hold a special election for the remainder of the year seeking a change to the school district's millage rate.

Travis Riggs, board president, and board member Willie Cowgur said they support the November date for that reason, because they don't want the district to be handcuffed to the first few months of the year if officials want to set a special election.

The Bentonville School District won a millage increase request earlier this year for new buildings, an increase that should take care of the district's capital needs for several years.

Others argued for a May election. Eric White, board vice president, said most other districts have chosen May, based in part on advice from the Arkansas School Boards Association. The Fayetteville, Rogers and Fort Smith boards are among those that have decided to hold their elections in May.

Joe Quinn, a board member, said school board candidates would have a hard time getting their messages out if they were forced to campaign at the time of a general election.

"What I worry about is, if we go with November, it will be more expensive than ever to be noticed, because think about it. You're going to be trying to run a school board race on a presidential election day. Think about trying to get attention for your little school board campaign," Quinn said.

Board member Rebecca Powers said she's adamantly opposed to board elections in November.

"I don't want school board members to be lumped into a political, partisan race," Powers said.

Matt Burgess, the board's Zone 6 representative, is the only Bentonville board member whose seat is up for election in 2018.

The board will vote at its next meeting, next Monday, on the election date.

In other business, finance director Janet Schwanhausser said administrators would like the board to approve a change to the district's fund balance policy. The change would lower the minimum amount the district must keep in its fund balance from 17 percent to 15 percent of its operating budget.

"This revision gives us some adjustments that will bring us a little more flexibility while still retaining the intent of the policy to protect our financial health," Schwanhausser said.

In recent years, the fund balance has been as high as 22 percent of the operating budget at the end of the fiscal year. A state law passed this year limits fund balances to 20 percent of operating fund revenues. The state does not set a minimum percentage school districts must keep.

The board will be asked to vote on the change at its next meeting.

NW News on 11/07/2017