Board of Education to decide on election timing

After November vote to shift City Council elections, school board may follow suit

The Palo Alto school board will decide Tuesday whether to follow the City Council in aligning its elections with county and state balloting in order to cut costs.

The city's century-old tradition of holding elections on odd years ended in November, when nearly 77 percent of voters supported Measure S, a city measure to consolidate elections first proposed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss.

Voters resoundingly supported the argument that aligning city balloting with state and national elections would save election costs and boost participation.

Opponents, including former Mayor Gary Fazzino and City Council Member Greg Schmid, predicted the change will reduce focus and volunteer-power for local elections, forcing them to compete with attention-grabbing state and national issues on the same ballot.

Cost savings of consolidating school board elections with county and state ballots are estimated to be at least $57,000 in 2012 -- the difference between the cost of mounting a November 2011 vote and the school board's share of participating in the November 2012 general election.

School board members expressed mixed feelings about making the change, noting the apparently overwhelming public support for it as well as the conflict-of-interest inherent in effectively extending their own terms for a year.

The current terms of Board President Melissa Baten Caswell, Vice-President Camille Townsend and member Barbara Klausner are due to expire in November 2011, but would be extended to November 2012 if the change is made.

Terms of board members Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom are currently set to expire in November 2013.

Mitchell noted that the school board is considered "low man on the totem pole" in the context of other local, state and national races.

"Breaking through the noise level of the national, state and the number of crazy propositions we have in California can be tough," Tom said.

"It could make it more challenging for our citizens to try to pay attention to everything.

"I wish there had been greater civic debate about this issue in the last election -- it didn't really seem to get much attention. However, the voters did vote quite decisively on this. I feel our hand is forced to a large degree by the city's move," Tom said.

In deciding the issue Tuesday, board members are asked to choose either to adopt a resolution aligning their elections with those of the City of Palo Alto, or to alter their by-laws which currently state, "Whenever possible, the board shall consolidate board elections with the local municipal or statewide primary or general election."

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Like this comment
Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I myself can appreciate the view that the elections for the Board of Education should be at a time different from city or state elections, but given the financial realities of this era, I think that $57,000 should be saved by synchronizing the BoE's elections with those other elections. Voters surely are mature enough to carry a larger load of voting decisions due simultaneously.

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