With the Utica Community Schools Board of Education elections approaching next Tuesday, some officials and taxpayers are questioning the expense of holding the elections in odd years.
School officials, however, say the timing makes the best sense for how the board operates.
The May 3 election will cost UCS about $90,000 from the district's general fund. If the schools held board elections to coincide with general elections in even years in November, the costs would be absorbed by the larger state and federal election. UCS, however, opts to hold the elections in May of odd years.
Shelby Township Clerk Terri Kowal said at a recent township meeting that she would like to see UCS hold its elections in November of even years. She said a bill in the state House of Representatives that would require school boards to be elected with the general election makes sense and would save UCS money.
"If the elections were on the even year ... the same as presidential race, it would cost nothing," said Kowal.
In January, a bill was proposed in the state House of Representatives by Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth) to consolidate school board elections with the more visible federal, state and local elections held in November of even years. The bill has not been voted upon.
UCS Board of Education President Dr. Carol Klenow said the board made the decision several years ago to run elections on odd years when the schools were given the choice between November or May. She said it made the most business sense.
“Our particular district opted for the May date because we believe it's most closely aligned with the fiscal year,” she said.
Board members who are elected in May would be seated on July 1, which is the first day of the district’s fiscal year.
If the elections were held in November, the newly elected board members would be seated January 1, which is already halfway though the fiscal year and the school year. “It’s the best for flow of work to take office July 1,” Klenow said.
Klenow added that UCS decided to have elections for the six-year terms every other year, rather than every year, to cut costs.
Should the election move?
Parents, politicians and school officials have varying opinions on the matter.
UCS parent Sheila Jeffries said it makes sense to have the board members start with the fiscal year. "I don't think the schools should spend that kind of money, but they (board members) should start when school does. I don't know what a good answer is," she said.
UCS school board candidate Ken Krolczyk said that if elected he would propose aligning the UCS fiscal year with the state's and moving elections to the November general election.
"By doing this (May Elections), UCS is using educational dollars that could otherwise be used for students," said Krolcyzk.
Another parent, Debra Kaszubski, said, "I don't know what the solution to this problem is, but I do believe that this is an issue the district should look into in order to save money, especially with the possibility of the substantial state cuts looming overhead."
Schools ran the elections in June every year until about 2004, when the State Election Reform Law was passed to consolidate local and school elections. The responsibility was then handed over to local clerks to regulate not just school elections, but also all local elections.
“This issue is broader than school districts. Other government authorities, such as municipalities and community colleges, retain the flexibility to schedule special elections when it is in the best interest of their community,” said UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy. “That ability would be taken away from local schools. If a change is made, then the same restrictions should apply to all governmental authorities."
In addition to UCS, a handful of other districts in Macomb County will be holding May elections. The districts closest to UCS holding May elections are Chippewa Valley Schools, Anchor Bay Schools, Warren Consolidated Schools and L’Anse Creuse Public Schools.
Vote May 3
Regardless of the election dates, turnout in school elections has always been low. Kowal said she is expecting fewer than 15 percent of the township's population to vote on May 3.
"I am hoping everyone shows up but I am not that optimistic," Kowal said.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Voters in Shelby Township and Utica will be asked to elect three new school board members. Five candidates, three of whom are incumbents, are vying for the positions.
To find out which precinct you should report to, visit www.michigan.gov/vote.