An Even Number of Board Members
It's Working Out
By Alex Saitta
May 31, 2011
When the school board was reduced from 9 to 6 members, some feared there would be too many 3 to 3 votes and nothing would get accomplished.
One person at the Liberty Middle School meeting argued that most all government councils, boards or legislative bodies have an odd number of members to insure ties donít occur. When I thought about that, I found that not to be the case. The state senate has 46 members, the state house 124 members. The county council has 6 members.
Thus far the board has had 59 votes of significance, or votes excluding those to adjourn, approve minutes or go into executive session. Only 2 issues caused a 3 to 3 and both times the issue was modified or reconciled and immediately passed.
When a 3 to 3 vote occurs, that motion deserves to fail just as much as a 0 to 6 vote. If a resolution doesnít garner at least a 4 to 2 majority, obviously it was a bad idea or it needed modification.
For me, in those instances, I donít see a 3 to 3 vote as a problem.
A 3 to 3 vote becomes a problem when the board deadlocks on an issue that must be passed. For instance, when selecting a chairman, when issuing a contract to the superintendent or passing a budget. Those things must have a favorable vote.
The selection of the chairman was 5 to 0 with one abstention (Cooper). The Superintendentís contract was approved 3 to 2, with one board member absent (Shelton). I believe he would have voted with the majority. So far the budget resolutions have passed either 4 to 2 or 5 to 1.
A 3 to 3 vote occurred in two budget votes, but the item was passed on the third vote 4 to 2. As long as the personal relationships on the board remain good and trustees are talking to each other, this isnít a concern.
In a recent policy we addressed one such situation when a 3 to 3 vote could arise and a choice had to be made. Below is the new school board policy for electing officers like the chairman of the board. My comments are in red.
Policy BD Organization of the School Board
Purpose: To establish the basic structure for board organization.
The officers of the board of trustees are chairman, vice-chairman and secretary. The officers are elected at the organizational meeting in November. Officers will be elected to serve for a one-year term.
Officers will immediately assume their responsibilities when they are elected. Their term will end at the start of the organizational meeting held in November of the next year. No officer can serve more than two consecutive one-year terms in a particular office.
Alex Note: In the past the terms of officers did not have a clear start and end date. We fixed that. The 2 year term limit for all officers was protected.
The outgoing chairman will preside and act as temporary chairman at the start of the
Officers will be elected by the majority vote of the board members present and voting at the organizational meeting.
In the event the board is unable to generate a majority vote to select a new chairman at the meeting, the outgoing vice-chairman will become the chairman when the organizational meeting adjourns and will serve a one-year term.
Alex Note: If there is a 3 to 3 tie, or no one candidate for chairman can garners less than 4 votes, the board can spend the entire night trying to work out a compromise so the majority can agree on one person for the position. If the board canít, and the meeting is adjourned, the vice-chairman becomes the chairman for the next year.
This has a lot of benefits. One, even if you get recurring 3 to 3 votes, a chairman is selected. Two, a no confidence vote of 3 to 3 kicks out the current chairman the next year. As a result, the chairman has to make sure he includes other board members in what is going on. Finally, this policy forces board members to put more thought into who they select as vice-chairman, because that person may automatically become the chairman the next year.
In the event the board is unable to generate a majority vote to select a new vice-chairman at the meeting, the outgoing secretary will become vice-chairman at the end of the meeting and serve a one-year term.
Vacancies in the above-mentioned offices will be filled by the board to fill the unexpired portion the term.
So far, I have to say I like the smaller board, mainly, because it makes every member important. When there were 9 members on the board, I would go months without ever getting a phone call from the chairman, because my opinion and vote was irrelevant to what the majority wanted to do. Thatís changed. Everyoneís opinion matters, because unless the vote is unanimous, it is likely to be a close vote.