WASB Makes Case for Local Control of School Board Elections

The WASB testified this week in favor of a pair of companion bills (Senate Bill 260 and Assembly Bill 332) aimed at retaining local control over how many nomination signatures are required in school board races and, in  particular, easing the statutory nomination paper signature requirements to run school board seats in certain small school districts in which a portion has been annexed by a second (2nd) class city.

The WASB worked with Assembly Education Committee chair, state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac, pictured at left), to help draft these bills on behalf of the North Fond du Lac School Board, which requested the legislation.

State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac, pictured at right) co-authored the bills.

 

Under current law, with the exception of the Milwaukee school district (MPS) and school districts that contain territory within a second class city, state statutes allow local decision making over whether school board candidates must file nomination signatures.   In other words, if a school district that has no territory lying within a second class city, nomination papers are normally not required to run for that school district’s board unless either the board itself or the annual school district meeting (in a common or union high school district) has taken action to require them.

(Second class cities are generally cities with populations of 39,000 or more and less than 150,000, although population alone is not determinative.  Madison, for example, has a population of over 250,000, but remains a city of the second class.)

To trigger a requirement to collect and submit signatures, either the annual meeting or the board itself can adopt a resolution to require candidates for the school board file to nomination paper signatures.  If so, the minimum number of signatures required is 20 up to a maximum of 100.

State statutes, however, require that if a school district contains any territory lying within a 2nd class city, candidates for school board must file a minimum of 100 nomination signatures up to a maximum of 200.

A confusing situation can arise when a second class city annexes a small portion of property within a surrounding school district.  That annexation, however small, triggers an immediate change from either no signatures or 20 signatures required to run for school board to 100 signatures required to run for school board.  That is what happened in North Fond du Lac.

When the city of Fond du Lac annexed a thin sliver of land within the North Fond du Lac School District boundaries on which a couple of big box retailers and a car dealership (but no residences) were located, the North Fond du Lac School District immediately went from not requiring nomination papers to requiring candidates for school board to suddenly gather at least 100 (and up to 200) nomination paper signature.

Luckily, school officials in North Fond du Lac became aware of this rather obscure statutory requirement in time to avoid any board members or challengers from being disqualified from holding office, which would potentially have nullified their votes, had they taken any, on board matters, and/or created an immediate board vacancy.

Nevertheless, the new and burdensome requirement to collect at least 100 nomination signatures in December’s cold deterred a number of high caliber individuals from becoming candidates.  In several cases, write-in candidates were elected after nobody filed the required 100 signatures.

The bills that received a hearing this week address the situation where a sliver or a small portion of school district territory is annexed into a second class city in two ways:

  • First, they provide that the requirement of a candidate for school district officer to obtain between 100 and 200 signatures would first apply in the second spring election following the event (e.g., annexation) that causes a school district to contain territory lying within a second class city.  This would give the school board or the annual meeting time to adjust or to reduce the number of signatures required.
  • Second, where less than ten percent of the school district’s territory is contained within a second class city, these bills permit the annual meeting (of a common or union high school district) or the school board of a to adopt a resolution to reduce the number of signatures required on nomination papers submitted by candidates for school district officer to not less than 20 and not more than 100.

Should the amount of territory lying within the second class city (or cities) rise to more than 10 percent of the school district’s territory, the number of signatures required would return to the current law requirement of not less than 100 nor more than 200.

The WASB supported these bills because they continue to allow the decision about how many nomination papers are required to run for school board seats—in this case, in school districts with only minor portions of their territory within a second class city—to be made locally, rather than determined strictly by statute.  Our message: “Local control is working just fine, thank you.”