The Iowa Association of School Boards opposes the idea of merging school board elections with city and county elections in November. This past Tuesday’s school board elections in Iowa cost one-and-a-half million dollars to stage, and attracted only nine percent voter turn-out. But Margaret Buckton of the Iowa Association of School Boards says the group has for decades backed a separate date for school board elections. “We really support alligning the elections with September because that’s when school starts,” Buckton says. “It tends to be immune from the…partisan process by being in September and it gives board members a few months to think about the goals of the district before they start budgeting, which happens right in January.” But Iowa’s commissioner of elections and the executive director of the agency that oversees campaign activities say it makes sense to consolidate school board elections with city and county elections because it would save money. Buckton suggests cost-cutters first look at cutting the number of polling places open on school board election day, and she cites the experience in the Des Moines area this past Tuesday.”We know the Polk County Auditor limited the number of polling places in this last election which already saved the (school) districts in Polk County $80,000 to $100,000,” Buckton says. “Before we make a big chance in policy that might impact the continuity of leadership in school districts and the tie with when school starts in September, we should probably recalculate what that anticipated cost savings is (by consolidating elections).” Buckton disputes the idea that voter turn-out would increase if school board elections were held in November along with city and county elections. She says such a move might actually create more confusion for voters.”The precincts do not match between cities and school districts, so it might create some difficulties where voters would have to go to two different polling places on the same day, or folks who live in unincorporated Iowa now and don’t vote in city elections might actually get confused that now they have to vote when before they didn’t,” Buckton says. “The combination itself, without some research and study, we don’t assume that’s necessarily going to increase (voter) participation.” The Iowa Association of School Boards also opposes four-year-long terms for school board members, and any election consolidation with city and county elections would require lengthening the term of school board members from three to four years to match the terms for elected city and county leaders. Buckton says it’s hard enough to find people willing to volunteer to serve three years on their local school board and adding another year would make it more difficult to recruit school board members.
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