by SEAN BATURA
After an unusually heated discussion, San Marcos CISD board members on Oct. 24 voted narrowly to pay as much as $103,000 to stick with trustee elections in May rather than switch to November.
Many Texas school districts are examining whether to switch election days due to a recent change in state law. Senate Bill 100, passed by legislators this spring, puts primary runoffs on the third or fourth Tuesday in May, instead of sometime in April. The state made the changes in response to the federal 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which requires states to send ballots to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before a federal election — including party primary elections and runoff elections.
The school board voted 3-5 against moving elections to November and then voted 5-2 to appropriate the money to buy machines.
Because Buda and Kyle councils and San Marcos CISD traditionally hold their elections in May, voting machines cannot be cleared of data in time for the start of early voting in a runoff election the same month.
Joyce Cowan, county elections administrator, has said she cannot prepare machines for a new election until the old election has been canvassed. Therefore, she cannot guarantee county voting equipment will be available to cities and school districts in even-numbered years, when federal elections are held.
The $103,000 is the estimated cost of buying enough voting machines to conduct next year’s election with the same number of polling places utilized in previous elections, said Mike Abild, San Marcos CISD’s assistant superintendent for business and support services. He said the full $103,000 may not be necessary if the district opens fewer polling places or uses a leftover county voting machines. District staff will confer with Cowan to determine what options are available before voting machines are purchased.
The San Marcos chapter of the Texas State Teachers Association opposes keeping elections in May and expending up to $100,000 for voting machines.
“We believe that spending $100,000 during a budgetary crisis to pay for elections is the wrong choice,” said Susan Seaton, San Marcos TSTA president. “Classrooms and students, not politics, should be the school board’s first priority.”
Seaton said the district could put the money to better use keeping classes smaller, and providing additional classroom resources and
“I really don’t think it’s going to come close to $100,000 by the time we get through with it,” said Lupe Costilla, San Marcos CISD trustee. “This last time that I ran, there were only two polls open, and in years prior, there had been all of them open. [Cowan] has been in this business for a long, long time, so she more or less has an idea of what the voter turnout is going to be.”
Trustee Kathy Hansen and Trustees President David Chiu, both of whom both voted against sticking with May elections, have said the legislature in two years may require all school districts to have elections in November. They were joined in favoring November election by trustee Judy Allen.
“When we question spending $7,000 for choir uniforms because we’re getting more kids in choir, I don’t see how we can throw away $100,000-plus for machines that we may have no need for in two years,” Hansen said.
Trustee John Crowley, who voted for remaining with May elections, said they have served the district well, as evidenced by the fact that the board is an ethnically-diverse group of college graduates. Crowley said the board’s quality allowed it to meet the challenges of a tough budget year by cutting millions in spending.
Based on state funding formulas, the district expects to suffer a reduction in funding of approximately $2.2 million this budget year and $4 million next year compared to last year’s funding levels. Crowley said the district needs to be in top form in order to weather the stormy financial seas ahead.
“I think the system has worked — elections in May has done good things for this district and this community,” Crowley said. “I’m just afraid a November election will change that.”
Crowley said he is concerned by the cost buying new machines, but said “that’s not a huge amount of money in the big picture” when taking into account the affect of a November election.
“Next year we’re looking at probably cutting the budget again and I think it’s flippant for us to waste $103,000 — which, to me, is two teachers,” countered Hansen. “Or if we called every school and said, ‘We’re going to give you an extra $10,000,’ they would just jump for that. To me, [buying voting machines] is a selfish use of funds for what may just be our convenience. I think it’s important for this board to leave as minimal a footprint on the budget as we can and to assist in making sure that as many dollars as possible go to the classroom, to our students, so that we can give them a quality education.”
Hansen said November elections would increase voter turnout due to simultaneous federa, state, local, and city elections. San Marcos CISD elections are characterized by low voter turnout. By contrast, Trustee Margie Villalpondo opposed November elections because she said it would introduce political partisanship into what has been a non-partisan process. Further, she expressed concern that November elections would make it harder for some people to come out and vote due to the size of the ballot. Crowley said May elections are ideal because voters who care the most about the school district have a greater effect on the board’s composition.
Allen said reasons her colleagues offered for sticking with May elections are sound.
“But I can’t spend that money given our budgetary situation at this particular time,” Allen said. “Another time, I could consider it, but not at this time.”
There were a few votes taken on the matter at the Oct. 24 school board meeting. Those who voted for the change to November included Hansen, Allen, and Chiu. The same three trustees voted against remaining with May elections. Those who voted against the budget amendment allocating the $103,000 included Allen and Hansen.Email | Print