Governor Signs School Board Vacancies Bill Into Law

Governor Scott Walker signed Assembly Bill 325, relating to filling vacancies on a school board of a common, union high, or unified school district, into law as 2015 Wisconsin Act 63 last Friday (Oct. 23).

The new law requires school boards to adopt local policies on filling board vacancies and makes a temporary distinction between the Racine Unified School District and all other school districts with regard to how certain school board vacancies may be filled (see below).

Under current law, when a vacancy occurs on the school board of a common, union high school, or unified school district, the remaining school board members may fill the vacancy by appointment. Current law does not provide an alternative method for filling a vacancy and does not address how a vacancy is to be filled in the event that the remaining school board members do not make an appointment.

Assembly Bill 325, as amended, addresses this situation generally by requiring school boards of common, union high school, and unified districts to adopt a policy on how to fill board vacancies if members are unable to settle on a replacement within 60 days of the date on which the vacancy first exists. School boards must adopt such a policy by July 1, 2016.

The bill was initially aimed at breaking a deadlock on the Racine Unified School Board that has existed since June and has seen the board take at least 35 separate votes to try to fill the vacancy.

A provision in the amended bill gives the Racine Unified School Board President temporary power to fill an open seat on the board if the vacancy has existed for at least 60 days. That authority would expire on April 12, 2016.

With the Racine Unified board divided into factions, opponents of the provision giving the school board president temporary power to fill a vacancy have argued it lets the state intrude into local control by effectively letting one of the factions win. Supporters say the provision would allow the board to get on with the district’s business, which includes passing a budget and setting a levy and other time-sensitive issues.

The state Senate gave final approval to bill on Oct. 20; the bill cleared the state Assembly on Sept. 24.