Reapportionment approved on November ballot by 76 percent
By Brandon Hansen/For The Independent
Election night last week had it’s share of shockers and changes in government. One of particular note locally was the approval of the dissolution and reapportionment of director’s districts for the Chewelah School District (Proposition 1). The measure dissolved the five geographically defined director districts that school board members are from and reapportioned those positions such that there are three district director positions and two “at-large” bids that anyone residing in the school district can run for.
The measure passed with 1,617 (76 percent) votes for yes and 505 (24 percent) votes for no.
This comes after a lack of viable candidates has allowed the Director District 4 spot on the Chewelah School Board to sit vacant for 11 months. Last November Tim Whitley resigned from his District 4 spot after serving on the school board for 12 years. Repeated calls for applicants by local media could not bring anyone from that neighborhood to step forward and fill the position.
According to Prop 1 supporter Lori Larsen, one possible reason for the difficulty could be the economic and more business-focused nature of District 4 (which covered the downtown area of the town). “Fewer people willing or ready to serve actually live in that particular area. That’s why restructuring the Chewelah School Board seemed like a good solution.”
In January, Larsen volunteered for the position since efforts to fill it had been unsuccessful. She was appointed as an “at-large” position, but as the Board later discovered, it lacked the legal grounds to do so without a voter-approved change to the school board’s structure.
“They were swearing me in and I wondered aloud what the legal mechanism was that allowed me to serve and how long I would have served before running for re-election,” Larsen said. “They were initially unable to answer these questions, and so inquired with the local education district; they discovered they couldn’t actually appoint me at that time.”
At a cost of $1,884, the school district put the reapportionment measure on November’s ballot, which was much less expensive than including the measure on a February special election ballot or the August primary election ballot. Patience equated to savings for the district.
“We’ve had really good people that haven’t been able to get on the school board because of the districting. The passage of this ballot measure gives people who want to serve a better chance to run,” Superintendent Rick Linehan said. “It’s a big win.”
Currently, the five district positions are filled by: District 1 – John Eminger, District 2 – Clint Kirry, District 3 – Deanna Norvell, District 4 – vacant, District 5 – Loretta Burkey. A map of the new proposed district boundaries is available at the Chewelah School District office.
The county will redraw the Chewelah School District’s school board districts into three.
Larsen, a vocal supporter of the dissolution and reapportionment measure, said she is willing to serve in the open position if asked to and once the election is certified. While looking into how this would change the school board makeup, she said that since 2007 only one board candidate had an opponent – when Larsen ran against Loretta Burkey in 2011.
Linehan said that redistricting like this is a once in every 100 years kind of thing. The last time this happened for Chewelah was back in the 1900s. He also felt that the school district had done a good job communicating the changes that would happen if passed.
Larsen, who worked in the Valley School District from 2003-2012 and saw the inner workings of state school district policy and legislative trends, said that a lack of participation in small school boards could give way to a push for forced school district consolidation resulting in less local input on their school districts.
“We in smaller schools need to guard against forced consolidation, and vibrant local governance and representation is an important part of that,” Larsen said.
In a previous article, Chewelah School Board Chair Deanna Norvell said she feels the redistricting measure will bring new opportunities to the board.
“Redistricting opens up the opportunity for an interested community member to serve on the Chewelah School Board. There has been interest in filling the position; several community members have expressed an interest in the open director position; but did not live within Director District 4 boundaries,” Norvell explained. “By changing the configuration from five specific districts to three specific districts and two at large positions we hope to have the open position filled. Based on the amount of time which has passed since the position was vacated, the board finds this is a reasonable option to fill the open position. The benefit to the school board and the community is having a full working board of five members; each member bringing different information, considerations and perspective to the process.”