RSU 3 directors approve at-large voting for district

By Fran Gonzalez | Apr 05, 2018

Thorndike — The Regional School Unit 3 Reapportionment Committee met April 3 for a lively discussion of two methods of vote distribution. Two hours later, committee members agreed to adopt at-large voting for members of the Board of Directors.

The Commissioner of Education deemed the district was not apportioned in accordance with the principles of one-person, one-vote and charged the group with developing a new apportionment plan to meet compliance standards.

Two distinct groups of thought split the large crowd of 30 or more. One side favored weighted voting, while the other wanted at-large voting.

There was also talk of redistricting RSU 3 but, according to counsel present, "This only seems to work for towns that don't have an identity. Maps that cut towns up (are) very challenging."

Weighted votes would be a method of equalizing municipalities that have vastly different populations. Case in point, with its population of 2,000, Unity is twice the size of the district's other towns, yet Unity has been allowed the same single vote on the district's Board of Directors as each of the 10 other towns.

With weighted voting, the formula for equal distribution of votes is based on all the members of the board having a total of 1,000 votes. The ratio of the number of votes cast by the directors representing a municipality in relation to the number 1,000 must be the same ratio as the population. With this method, Unity would have two directors, each having 96 votes.

Some directors questioned the idea as not representative of each board member having an equal vote. They also brought up the fact that attendance at board meetings is usually minimal.

"(With weighted voting) there is no incentive to go to a board meeting where your vote is not equal," said Rachel Katz, Troy school board member.

Frank Champa, Brooks member, said, "People don't come to meetings, I wouldn't vote for weighted voting."

Wayne Suomi, community member from Unity, said, "Whatever we decide is not going to fix the attendance issue."

The other option, which was equally debated, was at-large voting. With this method, each municipality would continue to have one director, and they would be elected at-large by all of the voters in the regional school unit.

One of the complexities of this method is you would need to hold a district-wide election for any candidate running for the Board of Directors, according to counsel.

One board member remarked, "How well can voters make an informed decision for all the different towns? How representative will this be when now there is limited attendance at voting?"

"At-large voting is a way around what we all ready have in place. It's a technicality," said a community member.

Brian Jones, municipal officer from Freedom, said, "People should understand about these options. They are a big deal and we have 90 days from this meeting. As a citizen of the town, I'd expect the selectman to come back and let the town know."

Counsel advised against a special public meeting for the purpose of informing the town. "That would be a little out of line."

Penny Sampson, municipal officer from Unity, said she was "against at-large voting. We have the time; let's look into other options."

With the two-hour mark approaching, someone called for an end to discussion and asked to put the two options up for a vote.

At-large voting was approved 19 to 5. The plan will now be sent to the commissioner of education for his approval.

Specifics about the transitional time were not discussed at length, but according to an informational packet from the commissioner of education, "The approved plan shall be effective immediately. The reapportionment committee shall determine the terms of the new directors for any municipality, who shall be elected at the next annual municipal election."

A school administration district or interested parties may request that the State Board of Education reconsider decisions made by the commissioner of education regarding apportionment. The State Board of Education has the authority to overturn a decision made by the commissioner, according to information provided by the Commissioner's Office.

 

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