District may go at-large

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Local News

August 28, 2018 - 11:33 AM

Voters in November will decide whether the seats on the USD 257 board of education will be changed to at-large or whether they are to remain representative of the six voting districts.
School board members approved the ballot resolution at their meeting Monday night.
At-large means a person can live anywhere in the school district to run for a seat on its school board.
The board has spent months talking about the best way to change voting districts. They had various options: To retain the current six voting districts (and one at-large position), to switch to at-large representation for all seats, or redraw the districts to match the City of Iola’s four wards with two rural voting districts and one at-large position.
Having all at-large representation could encourage more people to run for seats, board members reasoned. While some districts have no trouble attracting candidates, others see no competition at all. Board member Jared Larkey won his seat with 12 write-in votes after no one ran for the position in November 2017.
County Clerk Sherrie Riebel said previously her office spends considerable time developing ballots for school district elections. She estimated it takes about 16 ballots to account for the differences between city voting precincts and school board districts. She proposed making the districts consistent with Iola city wards, but said an all at-large option would be even easier.
The disadvantage of at-large positions is a potential for decreased representation in some areas, such as if no one was elected from Gas or LaHarpe. For that reason, board president Dan Willis voted against the proposal.
“It’s been troublesome for me to walk away from making sure Gas and LaHarpe have representation,” Willis said. “But I get it. I think we’ve had too many districts not represented in the past. It’s time to do something.”
The other board members voted to approve the resolution to ask voters to make all districts at-large. Voters will decide the matter Nov. 6. Board member Jen Taylor was absent.
School board elections are held in the fall of uneven years, so the next election will be in 2019. Current board members can choose to run for the at-large seats. In 2019, four seats will be up for election.
School districts in the Moran and Humboldt areas already have switched to all at-large representation.

Go to the mat
A desire to help middle school students has connected the Iola Middle School’s wrestling program with Houston Texans’ star JJ Watt.
A grant from the JJ Watt Foundation will provide $13,762 for a wrestling mat for IMS, Matt Baumwart told board members. The district will pay just $275, the cost of including Watt’s logo on the mat. The two-sided mat can be used for competition on one side and for practice on the other. It measures 42×42 inches.
“It was fun going through the process and talking to JJ Watt during the summer,” Baumwart said.
He hopes to ask the foundation for another grant to purchase football uniforms for the middle school.
The JJ Watt Foundation helps after-school athletic programs, mostly at schools in Wisconsin (Watt’s home state) and Texas. Watt’s foundation also received publicity in 2017 for raising $37 million in three weeks for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

IN OTHER news, the board:
— Approved the 2018-19 budget, which includes a tax rate decrease of nearly 3 mills despite an overall budget increase of about $4 million. Thanks to an increase in the county’s valuation and a combination of grants and donations to expand programs and training, the district expects to spend $24.28 million, up from $20.01 million last year.
— Superintendent Stacey Fager expressed concern about a state-mandated requirement to organize nine “crisis drills” along with fire and tornado drills. Though the district has flexibility in determining how to handle the drills, Fager is concerned the drills could result in lost instruction time. He said he’s been talking to other school districts and local police to best determine how to implement the drills.
— Hired Mandy Moyer as assistant project director for the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.

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