Public shares thoughts on appointed or elected school board for Brownstown



To stay with an appointed board of trustees but possibly make some changes or switch to an elected board, that is the question.

The Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of trustees conducted a work session Monday night to give the public a chance to provide input. Seven of the 15 people present spoke, and Superintendent Tim Taylor read a letter from Dave Hall, who couldn’t attend because of a schedule conflict.

Brownstown is one of eight school corporations in the state with an appointed board. The merger that created the corporation in January 1965 called for six trustees to serve on the board: Two from Brownstown, one from Brownstown Township and one each from Driftwood, Grassy Fork and Pershing townships.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

Salt Creek and Owen townships were later added to the school system, and during a board reorganization in June 1989, Owen, Pershing and Salt Creek townships were to share two seats on the board on a rotating basis.

The board didn’t make a decision during the meeting. Taylor said the purpose was to receive input so the board could report on the matter at a future meeting.

"Making changes is a very lengthy and deep decision process in how it would be done," Taylor said. "I’m not personally saying what may be right or wrong, but it’s a process, so if you were expecting us to give you answers tonight as to something that might happen, we really can’t do that. What we really want to do is to hear from all of you."

Taylor said he and the board are aware township representation doesn’t align with current township populations. That was pointed out by Pershing Township resident Roger Martin.

He said there are 1,394 residents of the township and 1,572 in Owen Township, but neither have permanent representation on the board. Meanwhile, townships with 668 and 860 residents have permanent seats.

"I don’t know why it was done this way, but it’s wrong, and it’s within your power to fix it," he told the board. "To me, the most expedient way to fix it is to use the federal census and use that as a guideline, and the three smallest townships rotate. That way, if populations change, then we get a permanent representative."

Taylor then read a letter from Hall, who attended the Dec. 10, 2018, board meeting to present his case for an elected school board. Hall said he was disappointed in the lack of response.

"Not one member asked a question or made a comment in the public meeting," he wrote. "I left my contact information with each member and did not hear from anyone in the following six months until the school board president read a statement at the June board meeting."

Hall said the statement mentioned an April 22 work session during which the board reached a decision to make no changes.

"That meeting was not advertised for this purpose to discuss the topic of an elected or appointed board," he wrote. "I was obviously not invited to participate in the discussion I had started."

Hall said he has two issues with the current structure of the board: The community lacks equal and fair representation and the ability to hold board members accountable.

Three townships sharing two seats on the board leaves a township without representation for two to six years at a time, Hall said.

"It is long overdue that all members of the community have equal and fair representation on the board," he wrote.

With the current system, five members are appointed by three township advisory board members, and the other two are appointed by the five-member Brownstown Town Council.

"We have over 7,000 registered voters in the Brownstown school district," Hall wrote. "I think they deserve the opportunity to vote for the candidate they believe will do the best job representing them and will do the best job for the school."

With the school operating on an annual budget of nearly $16 million, Hall said the taxpayer money should be controlled by elected school board members who are directly accountable to the taxpayers and voters.

"As I previously stated to you on Dec. 10, 2018, if no changes are made, I will draft a plan and obtain the required signatures on the petition to submit to the board, and if it’s rejected by your board, it will go to the ballot on the 2020 general election," Hall wrote.

Sharon Yost and David Martin also spoke on behalf of Pershing Township.

"I am just not for the elected board members," Yost said. "I think there are good and bad parts of it, but I feel like we should have some sayso every year in what’s going on in Pershing Township. Who knows better than the people that live in Pershing Township? We don’t need an Owen Township or Salt Creek … to make decisions for Pershing Township. We’re able to do it ourselves if you just give us the chance."

David Martin, who served on the board for four years, said he is not in favor of an elected school board.

"I don’t think we would have better school board members because they are elected, but I know the sentiment in our area. There is no doubt in my mind it will pass when it comes up to be voted on. It’s going to change," he said.

"Before I left the board, I told all of you guys then the only chance you have to stop that is to change it yourself before it gets there to give equal representation to the area," he said. "If that doesn’t happen, I can just about guarantee you two years from now, we’re going to be an elected board."

Doug Nuss served on elected and appointed schools boards and said there are "major negatives" to an elected board.

One time during an off-year election, Nuss said four people were elected and had an agenda to remove the superintendent, and it happened because they had a majority of the vote.

"They were there for one purpose and one purpose only," he said. "If that’s the reason people want to run for school board, it will destroy your school very quickly."

When he was on the appointed board at Brownstown, Nuss said there was a good relationship with the teachers and superintendent.

"We worked together, and when you go outside of that and you decide, ‘We’re going to elect the school board,’ what you’re doing is setting yourself up for a situation where people come in with one agenda or they come in and they sit on the board and they decide, ‘You know what? We think teachers are getting too much,’" he said.

With an elected board, Nuss said the most popular person gets chosen, and their qualifications may not be investigated.

"The best vetting will not come from a popularity contest, but when those individuals come in and one or two people get to question them and find out what their real credientials are, that’s where you’re going to get your best school board member," he said. "Then if they don’t do the job, you have the opportunity to get rid of them."

Nuss said there is accountability with an appointed board because voters elect the people who make the appointments.

"If you have a situation, go to that person or that group of people and tell them and let them deal with your representative if you don’t feel like you can," he said. "At least they will and make sure to hold them accountable."

Nuss said there also would be costs associated with conducting an election. Mary Ann Spray, who served on the board for 16 years, said part of that would come from the school corporation’s budget, which has decreased over the years.

Switching to an elected board, Spray said it would be the members’ choice of how to "slice and dice" the corporation.

"That’s a huge decision that would have to be made," she said. "I’m all for everybody having equal representation. … Our current school board members are appointed by people that you vote for, so in a sense, you are voting for your people. You have that opportunity to go to these folks and express your likes and dislikes."

In talking to elected board members around the state, Spray said she learned some people come in with agendas.

"We don’t need that, and we haven’t had that up to this point, so why borrow trouble?" she said. "I don’t understand anyone wanting to borrow trouble with an elected school board because those are the things that are coming in. There are many, many, many things to consider when you’re changing what I consider a wheel that’s not broken at this point."

Board President Scott Shade thanked attendees and said the board wanted the open format.

"We’re doers here, and if things aren’t correct, then we will look at those and give them that honest effort to make it right," he said. "Regardless whether it’s an elected school board or an appointed school board, we have a job to do here, and that job is to do the right thing. You have our commitment to look at this and do the due diligence to look at it to do the right thing."

Taylor said it’s important to do what’s right for the community.

"You have that commitment from us," he said. "I really appreciate you coming, and please know that your thoughts and your ideas will be considered."

No posts to display