Source: Sherman Publications

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School board’s reasons for wasting money on May elections are disturbing

December 16, 2009

The Lake Orion Community Schools' Board of Education sent mixed messages to the community last week and put democracy on a slippery and frightening downward slope when it voted 6-1 to continue with May elections.

The vote came directly on the heels of a discussion to set parameters for next year's monumental budget cuts. $10 million? $12 million? That's a big chunk of Lake Orion Community Schools to lose in one year, and where the bleeding will stop, well, no one knows.

But as one of only four districts in Oakland County opting to continue with May elections rather than piggybacking November general elections, the district spent some $33,000 on the May 5, 2009 unopposed school board election.

Its reason? The district functions from July fiscally and September academically. May elections, in the words of Board President Bill Walters "allow us to initiate and bring new board members into play with some effectiveness in the cycle of the school year."

Besides, the board thinks it can cut those costs down. For example, it will continue trying to convince the township clerk to consolidate precincts and stop sending notice to voters about the upcoming election.

And it thinks state lawmakers should get to work on legislation so unopposed candidates can be reseated, sans the election.

These are bad ideas, the kind that should strike fear into the hearts of any democracy-loving, red-blooded American.

The board's decision to continue with May elections, and its comments supporting that decision, are a shameful slap in the face to the entire Lake Orion community, and we think the board would do well to sit down and take another look.

The excuse about new members "coming into play with some effectiveness" doesn't cut it. New members, if they haven't been in the audience watching and learning for months, can work harder to get up to speed when they're elected in November. Everyone is working harder these days. It's just necessary.

And instead of declaring an unopposed candidate elected—a move that could, and likely will, end up with undue pressure on potential candidates—the board should be spending its time and energy thinking of ways to encourage more people to run so fewer unopposed elections take place.

Stop sending out notices? Another terrifically bad idea. The last election had a 4.09 percent turnout. Does the board want to see that number go lower?

Perhaps they do.

Lower voter turn out means a controlled election; it means, in fact, the board can excercise its influence and end up with the new members it wants, the like-minded individuals who won't throw a monkey wrench into the mix by contributing new ideas or controversial opinions.

It's a dangerous, slippery slope. This community deserves better.