Gazette opinion: Time running out for choices on school boards

2014-03-20T00:00:00Z 2014-03-20T07:25:04Z Gazette opinion: Time running out for choices on school boards The Billings Gazette
March 20, 2014 12:00 am

Do you live in the Blue Creek, Independent, Canyon Creek, Elysian, Elder Grove or Morin school districts? If so, did you know that you are at risk of having no say in who represents you on the Billings high school board?

Only one candidate has filed, Eric Olsen, who filed Wednesday, according to Leo Hudetz, Billings school clerk and financial officer.

Residents of Orchard, Newman, Ponderosa and Riverside attendance areas are in a similar predicament. No candidates have filed to represent the South Side.

March 27 deadline

The filing deadline is March 27, one week from today. In past years, candidates have waited until the last day to file. That is a problematic strategy. First of all, candidates need to pick up a filing packet from the county elections office in the Yellowstone County Courthouse or from the school clerk at Lincoln Education Center and have a sufficient number of voters registered in their trustee district sign their candidate petition. The South Side K-8 seat requires 20 signatures. The rural high school seat requires five signatures.

If only one candidate files for a seat, voters will have no choice. However well qualified or poorly qualified that candidate is, he or she will be the only name on the ballot and likely will be the trustee for the next three years.

No election, no voter choice

If absolutely no candidate files for election, the school board is required to fill the vacancy by appointing a trustee to serve until the next election in May 2015.

The next three years will be an exciting time for Billings Public Schools as the district fulfills voters’ directive to improve and expand facilities and staff for a growing student population. In the next three years, two new middle schools will be constructed and all sixth-graders will start attending middle school, instead of elementary school. Broadwater and McKinley schools will be completely renovated and updated. Every other elementary and middle school, except Orchard, which was rebuilt several years ago, will have major maintenance work.

Trustees must keep our public schools accountable for the voter-approved investments in technology K-12. Trustees must set policies that will result in more students graduating ready for college and careers.

Fortunately, one Billings trustee district will have a choice on the May 6 ballot. Janna Hafer and Virgil Middendorf are running for the K-12 seat representing the east Heights and the downtown area.

Lockwood, Laurel openings

Unfortunately, no candidates had filed as of midweek for any of three seats up for election in Laurel nor for either of two seats up for election on the Lockwood board. Information on running is available at the school district’s administrative office and at the county elections office.

All our schools need smart, fair-minded public education advocates to serve on their boards.

If you recognize the high value of your neighborhood schools, please consider filing or encouraging a good candidate to file.

Voters should have good choices. There’s only a week left to create those choices.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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