For the second consecutive municipal election, voters in Valmeyer have the opportunity to vote on a referendum.
This time, the Valmeyer School District is seeking to change how its school board members are elected.
Residents of that school district will have a public question on their ballot asking if board of education members should be elected at-large, allowing for anyone to serve, instead of membership being restricted by a requirement that no more than three members of the board may reside in the same congressional township.
“It has been difficult to recruit candidates to run for the board who live outside of new Valmeyer,” Superintendent Eric Frankford said of why the district is seeking this change. “The discussion happens during each election cycle. This cycle, we had the possibility of open seats and needing to fill them with either write-in candidates and/or board appointments.”
The rule requiring no more than three board members to live in the same congressional township was established in the 1950s when one-room schoolhouses in the area were closed and consolidated into the unit school district from 1953-1955.
The intent of the requirement was that it would ensure students from more rural areas would still have representation on the school board and get a quality education, per Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean.
In 2021, however, that initially beneficial rule had unintended consequences.
The board had several people who wanted to serve, but they all lived in the same congressional township so they could not all be on the board.
“I think it’s an obsolete law,” McLean said. “In this example, you’ve got people who are interested in running, and it prevents people from being able to serve who have an interest. And it’s hard getting people to want to run for a thankless job.”
This year, McLean said there were three open spots on the board but only two candidates have filed for them and only one of those candidates can be elected because of the residency requirement.
Frankford said most of the new town is in one congressional township, making this a frequent problem.
The proposition must be approved by the majority of votes cast in each township or by two-thirds of all voters who vote on the question.
If it passes, the change will take effect this year and require some restructuring of the board.
Frankford said the terms of incumbent board members would expire once the at-large members have organized. That means all seven seats would be up for election in 2023.
“In order for the new board members to have staggered terms, in the initial board meeting to seat the newly elected at-large board members, four members would serve four-year terms and three members would serve two-year terms,” Frankford explained. “The length of the new board members’ terms would be chosen by lottery at the board’s organizational meeting. All board members would serve four-year terms thereafter.”
If voters do not approve the change, write-in candidates are eligible for election. If none or not enough of those candidates get the votes needed to win, the board will select the person or persons to fill the open seats.
John Niebruegge and Kyle Andres are running as write-in candidates. They must get at least 50 votes to serve on the board, McLean said.
“Luckily, Valmeyer…has had good board members that first came onto the board as write-in candidates and/or were appointed by the existing board,” Frankford said. “The board feels that the best process should be a slate of candidates on the ballot for the voters to then decide.
Early voting is available every weekday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Courthouse until April 5. There will also be early voting March 27 from 9 a.m. to noon at the courthouse.
Election Day is April 6.