Corporation-wide voting

School attorney J.C. Tucker (standing) addresses the Paoli School Board about options for reorganizing the school board. The populations of the current districts are not close enough to each other to comply with state law after the 2020 Census.

The Paoli school board adopted a resolution allowing all voters in the Paoli School District to vote for all school board candidates, after school attorney J.C. Tucker explained that every 10 years the census is completed and Indiana law requires that if a governmental body elects “from a district where the individual has to reside in the district and is elected from voters in the district, then the districts that are created have to bear a population within 15% of each other.”

After the last census, the districts of the Paoli School Corporation are more than 29% of each other.

“You’re going to have to do something,” said Tucker. “That’s just what the law is. You can’t stay out of compliance or it will be forced down your throat and it will definitely not be in a way you like if you were doing it yourself.”

Tucker said the board needed to adopt the resolution quickly so they can get the changes in place by the next election. The board must then notify the citizens of the resolution through a legal notice in the newspaper, which it has.

This affords residents opportunity to file a petition within 120 days protesting the plan or submitting an alternative plan. To provide an alternative plan requires 20% of voters, or 500 people, whichever is less.

If an alternate plan is suggested, it will go to a special election within the school corporation and voters would choose whichever plan they like. Before that can happen, the alternative plan has to be approved by the Department of Education to make sure it complies with Indiana law.

The current districts are District 1 (Paoli Town); District 2 (Paoli and Greenfield townships); and District 3 (Stampers Creek and Southeast townships). After the census, Tucker said the population of District 2 does not have as big a voice as the other districts.

Tucker provided three options to meet compliance.

One solution, Tucker stated, is to have an election retaining the same residency requirements for the districts, but the election is among all voters of the school district.

School board member Craig Starr worked on an alternative solution which is a combination of corporation-wide voting and voting within the district. District 1 would continue to be comprised of Paoli Town and have two members. District 2 would instead be comprised of Paoli and Southeast townships and also have two members. District 3 would be made up of Stampers Creek and Greenfield townships and have one member. There would also be two at-large members.

Candidates from the districts would be elected by voters from within the districts. The at-large candidates could reside anywhere in the school district and would be elected by all voters within the school district. The deviation would be 11%

Tucker said the Indiana Election Division has a task force that has made Paoli Schools aware that it is not in compliance with state statute and came up with a third option, which Tucker questioned.

Tucker explained that when school corporations were formed in the 1950s, some schools had five representatives and there were even those with as few as three members. They were grandfathered in, but most school corporations went to seven representatives. Tucker said Paoli has always had seven representatives, even back when members were appointed.

The third option is to expand the school board to nine members. It would have three representatives from a Paoli Town district; three representatives from a district of Paoli and Stampers Creek townships; two members from a district of Southeast and Greenfield townships; and one at-large member. The deviation would be 4.9%.

Tucker said there would not be any changes electorally with the first option, and anyone currently on the school board can run for the same seat. There would have to be some rearranging with the second option since the districts would change. With the third option, it would also mean five candidates running next year to fill out all nine seats.

Paoli School Board President Lila Tucker asked members to discuss their preferences.

Board member Terry Nicholson voted in favor of option one. “It’s the closest thing to what we’ve got with no big changes,” said Nicholson.

Starr voted for option two. He opposed to option three, explaining that if the school board was going to ask its administrators to operate in the most efficient manner, then they needed to do so also. Adding extra members to the board would also expand its costs through board member salaries, even if minimal.

In support of option two, Starr said it can be difficult for the public to attend school board meetings or voice their opinions, so they rely on school board members to represent them. Starr said when he campaigned, he talked to the people in his district and what he got from that was very valuable. Starr said he fears that if voting was district wide, candidates would focus their attention on Paoli Town and would not meet with their district as much. Starr said it was already difficult trying to meet with everyone just within his district.

“You cannot neglect the 3,600 people in town and still see people in Greenfield Township,” said Starr. “I just think you’re not going to see candidates going out there. I think the board makes better decisions when we’re all engaged in it and we’re all discussing it.”

With the current system, Starr feels members are forced to go back to their districts to get input. He also thought adding an at-large member is a good compromise to having a district-wide vote. “Every district will pick up a person who they can vote for,” said Starr.

Board member Bill Hoke supported option one after talking to his constituents and conducting his own straw polls on the topic. “It’s what people would rather have and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Hoke.

School board member Joe Kimmel preferred option two. He worried about the impact the Paoli Town district would have on all of the other districts.

“Paoli Town could elect people from another district that the people in those districts didn’t vote for,” said Kimmel. He said that farmers who have “a lot of money in the bag here because of the taxes” but they will have less to say because those in town will have a greater impact on the voting.

Kimmel also worried about going with option one since there is growing support at the Statehouse to make school board elections partisan. Kimmel said he strongly disagrees with the idea of school board candidates having to declare if they are a Democrat of Republican. Kimmel said he would support option three before he’d support option one.

Paoli School Board member Doug Pittman gave his support to option one.

“I was elected to Paoli Township, but I represent every kid in this school regardless of what township they’re in,” said Pittman.

Pittman acknowledged Paoli Town would have an advantage in elections, but he said those on the school board try to do what is best for the whole school corporation. Pittman also felt every parent who has a child and every eligible voter has a right to vote for him or anybody else.

Board member Lora Sanders said she debated the issue all the way up to before the meeting. She went with option one because it is what the people want.

Sanders said she thought about what Kimmel had said about representing the areas, and she felt it would be a plus to retain the current districts and have members reside in those areas. Sanders also thought it might give farmers more of a say because they will be able to vote for those running in the town district. Also, they could call anyone on the school board instead of focusing only on their specific representative.

“I just feel like option one is where I’ve got to go,” said Sanders.

Tucker also said she supported option one.

Hoke would move to proceed with option one with Sanders seconding the motion. It passed with 6-1, with Kimmel casting the dissenting vote.

After the vote, Starr said while he voted for option one, he still favored option two more. He reiterated his fear that they will not see candidates visit the voters in the townships. Sanders said they can keep Starr’s concerns in mind and make an effort to visit those areas.