Fayetteville School Board votes on new election date

Posted: October 27, 2017 at 1:10 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The School Board voted to have elections in May next year and passed other policy changes during Thursday's meeting.

School boards across the state have been given the choice of holding their elections next year in May or November.

Board organization, appointments

• The board re-elected Justin Eichmann as president, Traci Farrah as vice president and Nika Waitsman as secretary.

• Tim Hudson was appointed again as the legislation liaison.

• Bob Maranto was appointed Arkansas School Boards Association delegate for December’s annual meeting in Little Rock.

Source: Staff report

For decades, annual school board elections have been on the third Tuesday of September. They now must be the same day as preferential primaries in the spring or the general election in November, in accordance to a change under Act 910 of this year's state legislative session.

The Fayetteville board also voted to follow "annual board elections on the preferential primary day on even years and, on odd years, on the day in which the preferential primary would be held if they were a general election that year."

The specific language was necessary, legal counsel Chris Lawson said, to clarify School Board elections would be the same time of year regardless of the year.

Members have differing opinions on whether the change is a good thing, but believe May is the best option of the two.

Both board president Justin Eichmann and superintendent Matthew Wendt said May will work better with the school year schedule and will be a much easier transition for new board members than a November election would.

Newly elected members will be able to go through professional development during June and start at the beginning of the fiscal school year July 1. It would shorten training time because there would be no need to check up on the school year, Eichmann said.

"It's important school board elections don't get clouded by other elections. Most people want school business separate from politics," said Eichmann.

Board member Bob Maranto said the change from the September election date to May will bring a greater turnout of voters -- from 3 percent to 20 percent during primary years -- and in the long term it will be better for schools.

He said when he ran, many people didn't realize there was an election in September.

"I think it will do more good than harm, but it's change -- uncomfortable change," he said.

The change will shorten the terms of board members by four months. Fayetteville's at-large, position 2 will be up for election this May.

Susan Heil, who holds that position, said she wouldn't say whether she was running for re-election yet but the change will not affect her decision. She's worried about how it will affect voters though, she said.

"I think it's going to end up being a lot of really confused votes, and I just hate that," Heil said. "I think May is the right date based on the options, but I don't think the voter population is expecting a vote in May and our parent population is looking at vacations in May."

A reading of the election policy change will be given at next month's meeting.

The board also approved revised district policies to the meal charge, purchases of commodities and services, grading and wellness policy in accordance with state and federal changes, according to the agenda.

All elementary principals in the district are ready to move forward with implementing a standards-based report card, according to the agenda. The board agreed to wait until August to implement the new policy.

During the annual report, Eichmann noted federal funding allocations decreased in Title I and Title II. Title I dropped from $1,879,559 in 2016-17 to $1,761,151 for the 2017-18 school year. Title II dropped from $224,504 to $200,000.

Some Title I services, which supplement math and literacy instruction for disadvantaged students, have had to be reduced, Eichmann said.

"When you're looking at numbers this large, that might not seem like a lot of money but it is," he said. "We are not notified until very late. It never feels good to have to sit down with principals and others and live within this new budget, and we have no choice."

Title III remained unchanged at $75,067, according to reports.

NW News on 10/27/2017