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Reducing Board of Ed. seats discussed

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval brought up the idea after the commissioners met with the Board of Education.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval brought up the idea after the commissioners met with the Board of Education.

January 15, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval said Tuesday that trimming the number of Board of Education members from seven to five might benefit the approximately 20,000-student school system, an idea that surprised school officials.

Four of the five County Commissioners said the idea was worth discussing.

Kercheval made the comments at a morning County Commission meeting, about 45 minutes after the commissioners met with the School Board. The idea was not brought up during the meeting with the School Board.

School Board member Roxanne Ober said Tuesday night it was unfortunate that the discussion didn't come up during the meeting of both boards. She said she was unaware that any commissioners were considering reducing the number of School Board members.

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"We have joint meetings every month. Obviously that's a time for the Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners to dialogue," Ober said.

"I'm surprised that they went into that discussion after they left the general meeting this morning," School Board Vice President Paul Bailey said.

The county would have to seek legislation to reduce the number of School Board members. The School Board used to have five members, but state lawmakers approved legislation in 1997 that increased the size of the board to seven members.

Kercheval wondered whether it might not be a good idea to talk about reducing the number of School Board members now, since there is currently one vacancy on the board.

He said that with a five-person board, it's possible School Board members could be paid a higher salary, which might draw qualified candidates to the position in future elections.

Just three candidates ran for three open seats in November's general election. School Board members earn $4,800 a year.

"You have to have concerns when you have three people running for three open spots," Kercheval said Tuesday morning.

"I don't think I can accept that argument," Bailey said.

Bailey said he thinks it was the amount of time being a School Board member takes and the inconvenient meeting times that kept people from running for the board.

Kercheval said he would like to discuss the issue with the School Board to determine whether having fewer members would be to the school system's advantage.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he supports trimming the number of School Board members to five.

"I agree with that," Munson said Tuesday night. "I just think five people can get together and make a consensus better than seven people having all crazy ideas."

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, a former School Board member, said Kercheval's idea is worthy of discussion.

Nipps said, however, she supports filling the vacant School Board position for now, because the board is operating with six members. Having seven members would lessen the possibility of having tie votes on school issues, she said.

The vacant position on the School Board was held by Nipps, who left the post in December after she was elected a county commissioner.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Tuesday night he was willing to discuss the idea but wants to talk to School Board members before he decides whether to support trimming the board.

"I need to find out how we got back up to seven in the first place," Snook said.

Former School Board member B. Marie Byers had pushed for the delegation to increase the number of board members. She said in 1996 having seven members would allow more diverse representation and give board members a chance to delve deeper into issues.

Bailey and School Board President Bernadette Wagner said they were unaware of any recent discussions to cut the number of board members.

They said having seven members allows each of those members to sit on different school-based committees, such as facilities, human resources, budget and policy groups. The board members then report back to the other members about their committees.

Wagner and Bailey said the committee system is efficient and saves time.

"Reducing that to five would increase the workload," Bailey said.

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