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Rule change helps Minnesota schools avoid elections

November 30,-0001 00:00

When long-time school board member Rob Duchscher decided to move out of the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district in March, he was frustrated to learn a potentially costly special election would be needed to replace him. “It still bothers me,” said ...


When long-time school board member Rob Duchscher decided to move out of the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district in March, he was frustrated to learn a potentially costly special election would be needed to replace him.
“It still bothers me,” said Duchscher, who spent 16 years on the school board. “We don’t like to have taxpayer money not going towards the classroom.”
A 2015 change in elections law required districts to have voters fill vacant school board seats rather than allowing board members to appoint someone. Lawmakers recognized incumbents are hard to beat and that appointed school board members often have an advantage at the ballot box.
Education leaders were quick to point out the turnover some school boards experience made the change problematic and potentially costly. The Legislature approved a fix earlier this year.
The update came too late for about 30 districts that scheduled special elections over the past year. Grace Keliher, governmental affairs director for the Minnesota School Boards Association, said those elections can cost thousands of dollars and typically attract very few voters.
For instance, the Milaca school district in central Minnesota held a special election in December to pick Jere Day to fill a vacant seat. The district reported the election cost $10,000 to run and drew just 226 voters, less than 10 percent of the electorate.
“I think the idea was good governance,” Keliher said of the 2015 rule change. “The law just wasn’t working.”
The compromise approved this year allows school boards to fill vacancies through appointment and residents to petition to have an appointment overturned, Keliher said. Appointees typically hold the seat until the next general election, when voters pick a candidate to complete the rest of the term.
Keliher added that lawmakers moving quickly to approve a fix was a refreshing instance of bipartisanship. “(They) said, ‘We made a mistake.’ They came forward and they fixed it,” she said.
Duchscher acknowledged it often “doesn’t hurt to run as an incumbent.” But he added that properly functioning school boards should be able to pick appointees who bring important skills to the job.
The timing of Duchscher’s departure minimized the cost for the Rosemount district. The special election to pick his replacement will coincide with the Aug. 9 primary.
Seven candidates are running to replace Duchscher: Craig Angrimson of Apple Valley; Rosemount residents Michael Atherley, Christopher Dahling and John Millea; Wendy Brekken of Inver Grove Heights; Sachin Isaacs of Burnsville; and Rachel Wetzsteon of Lakeville.
Angrimson, Atherley and Isaacs ran for the board in 2015, and each received roughly half the votes of any of the four incumbent board members who were re-elected.

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