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Bill could put an end to at-large elected positions

A bill under consideration in the Washington state Legislature has Oak Harbor school officials concerned about how to fill future vacancies on the elected board.

The bill, known as that Washington Voting Rights Act of 2013, would require elected bodies to eliminate at-large positions, which is currently how the Oak Harbor School Board and Oak Harbor City Council is comprised, and institute districts to help redress a lack of voter opportunity.

“I think it’s a bad fit for Oak Harbor,” school district Superintendent Rick Schulte said during a recent school board meeting.

Schulte said one of those district’s could include Navy housing and it won’t work well for such a mobile population.

Board president Gary Wallin added that it would also be difficult to find potential candidates in the San de Fuca area located on the southern edge of the school district.

After the meeting, Schulte said that voters could be faced with a candidate who may not be qualified and it may limit voter choice.

For the Coupeville School District, officials three years ago switched from five director districts to three districts and two at-large positions because of the difficulty finding people to run in specific districts.

Jerry Jenkins, former interim superintendent for the Coupeville School District and current superintendent of Northwest Educational Service District 189 based in Anacortes, said he understands the need for diversity on an elected board, but smaller school districts would be challenged to find people with an interest and ability to serve an elected office.

Schulte mentioned that the legislation stems from communities in central Washington that have sizable ethnic communities but don’t have representation on elected boards.

The voter act is currently in the Governmental Operations Committee. It would affect cities with populations of 1,000 or more and school districts with full-time equivalent enrollment of at least 250 students.

Schulte said he doesn’t know whether the proposed legislation will move out of committee.

If it does by the time he and several school board members meet with state legislators March 11, he will share his concerns about the proposed legislation, along with other topics including how the state will respond to the McCleary decision, a recent state Supreme Court ruling that said Washington isn’t fully funding education.

 

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