Will the school board of the Des Moines Public Schools vote to shorten Jon Narcisse’s term while adding a year to Patty Link’s term? That is the question left unanswered during a discussion at the May 20, 2008, meeting of the board. The discussion took place as a result of a new law passed by the Iowa legislature earlier this year.
The district’s communications official, Phil Roeder, presented information on the change in school board elections. He stressed that this was legislation (HF 2620) proposed by Iowa’s secretary of state (Michael Mauro) and opposed by the Iowa Association of School Boards and the Iowa Association of Cities. Roeder added that Mauro’s intent was to reduce the cost of staging elections. For voters in the Des Moines Public Schools district, there is also a matter of political strategy to consider.
Currently, the seven-member school board is elected for three-year terms with approximately one-third of the board seats voted on every year. Under the new law, terms will last for four years and approximately one-half of the board will be voted upon in each election (i.e., alternating between three seats and four seats). The law requires seats with terms ending in 2009, those positions now held by Connie Boesen and Teree Caldwell-Johnson, to convert to four-year terms with the 2009 election. The political maneuvering begins with those seats filled in the 2007 election.
School boards across the state will decide individually how they want to transition to four-year terms. In Des Moines, the board must change the length of term for Patty Link and Jon Narcisse, both of whom were elected in 2007. Both terms could be shortened or lengthened by a year, or one may be shortened and the other lengthened. The new law states that if the terms are split, with one seat up for election in 2009 and the other in 2011, then the board member who received the most votes in 2007 would have the lengthened term. Since the controversial Narcisse received the fewer votes, his term could end next year. In contrast, even though Link was seen by many people as being elected primarily to push through the final approval on the sale of the Rice school property, she received the most votes in 2007 and could see her term extended to 2011.
The board has the option of adjusting to four-year terms by resetting the length of terms for some of the victors in the 2008 school board election to one year. The board could decide who would have four-year terms and who would have a one-year term based on the number of votes each candidate receives. The board could also decide to split the ballot into races specific to four-year and one-year terms. All the law requires is for the board to end up with four members elected one year and three members elected two years later.
The DMPS school board will discuss potential new board configurations at its June 3rd meeting. If nobody speaks at that meeting, the board may decide to vote on its own plan(s) at that time. However, the board also left itself the option of delaying its decision until the June 17th meeting. Candidates for the 2008 school board elections may begin filing papers on July 7th. (July 31st at 5:00 p.m. is the deadline.) The board must have its transition plan to the secretary of state by August 1st.
Narcisse said he intended to serve only one term but did not think it fair to voters for that term to be shortened. Link did not express her opinion, merely asking if she could vote on the plan since her position would be impacted. (The answer is yes.) Jeanette Woods expressed concern about the cost of running for school board and said she did not think it fair to ask someone to run two campaigns in two years. Ginny Strong did not express any particular preference but was ready to vote on a transition plan. Dick Murphy said he wants a decision as quickly as possible to allow potential 2008 candidates the opportunity to decide if they will run. Woods, Strong, and Murphy all have terms expiring this year.
M.R. Field reports on the DMPS school board for AroundDesMoines.com.