All but one of the 15 school districts in Benton and Washington counties will hold their school board elections in May.
Act 910 of the 2017 legislative session changed the timing of board elections from the third Tuesday of September to either the date of the primary election, which is May 22 this year, or the general election, which is Nov. 6. The law leaves the date choice up to each board each year.
Here are the school board seats up for election this year, along with the term length available to the winner. The current occupant is in parentheses.
Zone 6, five years (Matthew Burgess)
Zone 1, three years (vacant)
Zone 3, five years (Kevin Smith)
Zone 4, five years (Randall Bolinger)
At-large 7, five years (David Williamson)
Position 7, five years (John Edwards)
Position 3, five years (Jeffrey Neil)
Zone 2, five years (Curtis Clements)
Zone 3, five years (Audra Farrell)
Position 1, five years (Carol Heymsfield)
Position 1, five years (Travis Warren)
At-large Position 2, five years (Susan Heil)
Zone 3, five years (James Miller)
Zone 6, four years (Candy Reed)
Zone 7, two years (Trish Morris)
Zone 1, one year (Tera Thompson)
Position 4, five years (Bart Orr)
Zone 2, five years (Jeffrey Williams)
At-large Position 2, five years (Michelle Cook)
Position 1, five years (Mark Findahl)
Source: Staff report
During odd-numbered years, board elections will be held on either the day that would be designated as the preferential primary election -- if a general election were held that year -- or the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November.
Bentonville is the only Northwest Arkansas board that chose November. It did so in a 4-2 vote on Nov. 13. Matt Burgess is the only Bentonville board member whose first, five-year term is expiring this year. He was among those who opted for November.
Those interested in running for their local board must file their paperwork between noon on Feb. 22 and noon on March 1 if they live in a district holding elections in May. The filing period is Aug. 1-8 for districts holding their elections in November.
Kim Dennison, coordinator of the Benton County Election Commission, wrote a letter to the county's school superintendents in May recommending they hold their annual elections in November.
Board races are nonpartisan. In the primary elections, however, board races will be listed on Democratic and Republican ballots, a possible source of confusion for voters. Judicial races, which also are nonpartisan, are also on the primary ballots with any needed runoffs on the general election ballot.
"Whereas in November, everyone is on the same ballot anyway," Dennison said.
The fact not all districts will be holding their elections at the same time is another potential source of confusion for voters, she said.
Another reason districts might prefer November is it allows them to hold a special election nearly all year long. Districts may not hold a special election for the rest of the calendar year once they've held their regular board elections, according to the law.
Boyce Watkins, advocacy director for the Arkansas School Boards Association, wrote a memo to school districts last summer in which he said most board members and superintendents favored May over November. Either month likely will make it harder and more expensive for school election issues and candidate messages to be heard because of competition with other political races and ballot issues, he wrote.
"However, May should be a better choice than November, especially in even numbered years when there is often so much focus on state and/or national races by the time the November general election is held," Watkins wrote.
Proponents of the new law have said holding school elections at the time of primary or general elections will increase voter participation. September board elections typically have drawn only a few hundred voters per race, even in large districts.
Twenty board seats will be up for election this year in Northwest Arkansas, including at least one in each of the 15 districts.
Curtis Clements, vice president of the Rogers board, said he plans to seek re-election this year. Clements, a lawyer, was appointed to the board in 2011 and ran unopposed for his first full, five-year term in 2013. Clements said he doesn't have strong feelings about the timing of the election, but said May is a better fit when it comes to ushering in new board members.
Members' terms begin right after an election, as opposed to most political office holders that start their terms at the beginning of a year.
Rogers school administrators recommended the board choose a May election because it gives a newly elected member time to acclimate to the position before the next school year starts and before the budget is approved in September.
"I like that [a May election] aligns more with the school year," Clements said.
The terms of two Springdale board seats are expiring this year: the Zone 2 seat held by Jeffrey Williams and an at-large seat held by Michelle Cook, the board's vice president.
Williams, the chief financial officer for America's Car-Mart, said he will not run for re-election because increased responsibilities at work have prevented him from putting as much time into his board work as he'd like. He has served on the board since 2008.
"It's been a good experience, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone," Williams said. "I'm glad I did it."
Williams graduated from Springdale High School in 1981 and is a member of the Springdale Athletic Hall of Fame. His father, Jarrell Williams, coached football for 36 years at the school.
Cook said she intends to run for a second term. She defeated Brian Moore for an at-large seat in 2013. She said she's excited about the May election and the possibility of waging a spring campaign this time. She does worry the May 22 election comes at a busy time, when people are thinking about summer vacation, the Memorial Day holiday and graduations.
"I know people are really busy in the spring. It will require a little more thought as to what is the best way to reach out to people," Cook said.
She's encouraged more people will be engaged in the election although she understands board matters might get lost in the shuffle of political races happening at the same time.
"If there are other races going on, then people are talking and interested in who's making decisions for them," she said. "People are more interested in doing more study about what's on the ballot."
NW News on 01/07/2018
Print Headline: Most Northwest Arkansas school districts prefer May for elections