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USD 398 hopes to change district representation

Staff writer

A question on the ballot April 5 may change the way the Peabody-Burns school district has elected its board of education representatives since the district was consolidated in 1965.

USD 398 is divided into three voting districts, representing constituents in the Peabody and Burns areas. Each voting district has the same population and ach elects two school board members to represent an area. A seventh school board members is elected from the at-large population, meaning he or she can live anywhere in the district.

The school board would like to implement an at-large method of representation for the entire district, allowing all seven representatives to represent the whole unified district instead of their own voting district.

In November 2010, board members passed a resolution that would place the question of representation on the spring election ballot.

“I spent a lot of time trying to recruit good board members,” board president Terry Eberhard said. “I especially wanted to get some new, young blood from the Burns community, but I couldn’t get anyone to run.

“The current method of electing representatives ties our hands because we are basing someone’s ability to handle the job on where he lives instead of on his qualifications,” he added.

Since the district has merged all of its students into two attendance centers, it makes even less sense to keep the three voting districts, according to Eberhard.

“This is not about trying to focus on one area over another area,” he said. “With one grade school building and one junior high-high school building, we are trying to focus on the district as a whole and provide the best education for all students, no matter where their home might be.

“I think if we had seven at-large positions, it might be easier to get people involved in caring about all the students in the district. We need to have some younger parents and patrons step up and serve the district as a whole,” he added.

The board unanimously approved the question be placed on the April ballot.

“All current board members see the need,” Eberhard said. “This is important to the future of both communities and the rural area as well. The whole board and administration has come out in support of this change.”

The question as it appears on the ballot is “Shall the following change in Method of Election be adopted? Shall Unified School District No. 398, Marion County, Kansas, change the method of election from the current Three-Member-District Method under which the school district is divided into 3 districts to the At-Large Method of electing school board members under which: The school district is not divided into any member districts and all board members are elected at large?”

Voters will be asked to answer “yes” or “no” to the question. A “yes” answer will mean changing the method of election to the at-large method. A “no” vote will mean keeping the three-district method in place.

If voters approve the change, it will not affect representation until the April 2013 school board election.

“We hope this will encourage qualified patrons to run for the board That is the key — that they are running for the board instead of running against a friend or neighbor in their voting district,” Eberhard said.

For more information or answers to questions, contact USD 398 Central Office at (620) 983-2198.

Last modified March 24, 2011

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