Brownstown presents four options for school board representation



A lot of thought and consideration went into coming up with four options for township representation on the Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of trustees.

After a work session in December gave the public a chance to share thoughts on an appointed versus an elected school board, this month’s work session focused on gathering input from township trustees and advisory board members and the community.

About 30 people attended Tuesday’s meeting in the Brownstown Elementary School cafeteria.

“What we heard was people seemed to be more concerned about representation of their townships,” Superintendent Tim Taylor said of the takeaway from the December session.

“As promised, we listened to input and put together a few options on how the board representation might change,” he said. “Nobody is saying that this is going to change. These are just options, and we’re here to hear your ideas, as well. We don’t have any answers at this time, but we’re looking at answers, and we’re going to throw out some possibilities of some ideas.”

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.

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 started sharing two seats on the board on a rotating basis.

In considering changing township representation, Taylor said he factored in the number of registered voters in each township, the most recent U.S. Census population in 2010, geography and history.

Combining Owen and Salt Creek townships into one representative district

Pershing Township would appoint a board member for 2020-21 as the Owen Township member’s term ends. Owen then would only be without a representative for two years.

Owen and Salt Creek townships would form a combined district for representation on the board for 2022-23 after the Salt Creek Township term ends. The townships’ advisory boards would combine to select a board representative to the newly combined district.

They would have to be a resident of one of the townships, and the seat would not rotate between the two townships.

“This would honor the original consolidation of Brownstown, Grassy Fork, Driftwood and Pershing townships,” Taylor said. “The addition of Clearspring schools (Owen and Salt Creek townships) came later.”

Combining Salt Creek and Pershing townships into one representative territory

Again, Pershing Township would appoint a board member for 2020-21 as the Owen Township member’s term ends.

Owen would appoint a board member for 2022-23 as the Salt Creek term ends, and Owen is only without a representative for two years.

Pershing and Salt Creek would form a combined district for representation on the board for 2024-25 after the Pershing term ends.

The township advisory boards would combine to select a board representative to the newly combined district. The seat would not rotate between the two townships.

Combining Salt Creek and Grassy Fork townships

Those townships are the two smallest in the corporation — Salt Creek with a population of 344 and register voters at 228 and Grassy Fork with a population of 668 and register voters at 486.

Owen would select a board member in 2022-23 when the Salt Creek term ends. Grassy Fork and Salt Creek would form a combined district for representation on the board for 2023-24 after the Grassy Fork term ends.

The advisory boards would combine to select a board representative, and the seat wouldn’t rotate between the two townships.

Taylor said this combination does not make sense geographically since Salt Creek is in the far northeast corner of the county and Grassy Fork is in southeastern Jackson County.

Rotating Salt Creek, Grassy Fork and Driftwood townships

Those are the three smallest townships. Driftwood had a population of 860 in the 2010 U.S. Census and 666 registered voters.

In this scenario, Pershing selects a seat in July of this year, Owen does so in 2022 (Salt Creek term ends), Driftwood in July 2022 (current term ends), Salt Creek in July 2023 (Grassy Fork term ends), Grassy Fork in July 2026 (Driftwood term ends) and Driftwood in July 2027 (Salt Creek term ends).

The cycle would repeat, and each township is without representation for one- to three-year spans.

This option, however, causes greater difficulty if the board would become elected, Taylor said.

“It still has time where you don’t have representation, but those gaps between representation are one and three years as opposed to currently being two and six,” he said.

Steps to amend existing plan

If the school board amends the existing plan, it would have to pass a resolution at a meeting and publish it in the newspaper within 10 days. Voters may file a petition with the clerk of the circuit court protesting the plan or submit an alternate plan.

A petition protesting a proposed plan must be signed by the lesser of 20% of voters or 500 voters. A petition submitting an alternate plan must be signed by 20% of voters and be filed within 120 days of the publication of the original plan.

Any plans certified by the clerk are then sent to the Indiana State Board of Education within 30 days of the expiration of the 120 days to file a petition. The board may revise and/or certify the plan.

If the state board certifies a plan initiated and approved by the school board without a protest petition or petition with an alternate plan, the plan goes into effect without further action.

If the school board disapproves a plan or a petition is filed against the board’s plan, the proposed changes go to a special election within 90 days of state board certification or a regular election if one is scheduled within six months.

“Attorneys I talked to through the state school board association, it takes between eight and 18 months to make changes depending upon if there are petitions or alternative plans,” Taylor said. “It’s a lengthy process.”

If initiated by voters, they would have to file a petition with the clerk of the circuit court specifying the proposed changes to the existing plan. The petition must be signed by 10% of voters, and the clerk has 30 days to verify signatures. If verified, the clerk files the petition and certification with the school board.

Within 30 days, the board may approve or disapprove the plan. Within 10 days, the board must publish its approval or disapproval. If disapproved, the plan would follow the same steps as a plan initiated by the school board.

Public comments

Cathy Hackman of Driftwood Township asked why each township couldn’t have its own representative all of the time. That would result in eight board members with six townships and two spots appointed by the town, but a board has to have five or seven members.

Paula Workman of Brownstown asked if the corporation had considered the number of students coming from each township. Taylor said that along with assessed valuation of property of the townships would be good to consider.

David Martin of Pershing Township asked why the board hadn’t thought about dividing the larger townships instead of the smaller ones. Taylor said that’s a valid point and something to consider.

Taylor said he wants to research township representation history in the meeting minutes from 1964, but Roger Martin of Pershing Township asked if that’s necessary.

“Why is it important to look at the original thinking behind it if what we’re doing now is unfair? Why do we care how we got there? Shouldn’t we just do what’s right now? Why do we care how it was conceived if we think it’s wrong?” Martin asked. “We need to be looking at what’s the right thing now rather than worrying about what people were thinking about 60 years ago.”

Grassy Fork Township Trustee Parke Hackman said looking at the original minutes is a good idea. He also said he would like to do an exit poll in his township.

“I’ve had no complaints. I think Grassy Fork has been well represented,” he said. “I feel like this is one of the best school boards in the area, and Brownstown school system is financially sound. I don’t know how we could improve on that much, but I understand everybody has the right and I understand what all brought this to the front.”

He also suggested having all of the townships rotate so everyone’s involved, while Cathy Hackman said the town could give up one of its appointments to one of the townships.

Board President Scott Shade said the board has discussed adding a policy to review the makeup of the school board every 10 years.

“Our job right now is to take the data that we have and take the history that we have,” he said. “Maybe there is an option that makes everybody happy, but there’s probably going to be some people that will say, ‘Why didn’t they do this?’ or ‘Why didn’t they do that?’ But we’ll just do the best we can and try to do what’s right based on the data.”

He and Taylor encourage people to contact them or another school board member to share thoughts.

“All of us are smarter than one of us,” Taylor said. “I don’t know what kind of decision we’re going to come to, but we’re going to try and do what’s best for everyone. There’s going to be some compromise in all of that, but we don’t know what that’s going to be. I thank the board for saying, ‘Hey, yeah, let’s talk about this openly.’ I think that’s a good, positive step.”

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