The Daily Tribune
  Sunday, February 21, 2010

  OPINION
 

State should pass bill to consolidate
school board elections

 

If Michael Switalski was a student, rather than a state legislator, we'd give him an A-plus for effort.

After being shot down earlier this year in his efforts to force school districts to hold their elections in November, Switalski has bounced back with another proposal. Let's hold all local elections in odd-numbered years and all state and federal elections in even-numbered years.

Some would say it's a back-door way of eliminating those often-ignored votes in February and May.

Yet, his recently proposed legislation deserves serious consideration for two primary reasons. First, voter turnout for elections in February and May — usually school boards or school tax issues — are historically low. Often less than 10 percent of the registered voters cast ballots.

Secondly, elections cost money and as municipalities and school districts are squeezed for funds, piggybacking on other elections will save tax dollars.

"People (in Lansing) keep talking about the need for reforms or efficiencies. But there are a lot of timid proposals out there," said Switalski, a state senator from Roseville.

"We've got to start doing significant things, far-reaching changes, and this plan is one."

While stopping short of giving Switalski's proposal her full endorsement because she hasn't reviewed the legislation, Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh noted that previous attempts to consolidate elections haven't been successful.

Some school districts hold school board elections in May, while others have switched to November. And many use the February date for tax issues.

"Putting schools all on the odd-year November ballot would be great," Sabaugh said in our recent report.

"The more you can consolidate elections and put them at normal times — in August and November — that's definitely worth looking into."

We realize there are a few pitfalls. If and when the changes are implemented, some terms for board of education members would have to be adjusted. And those elected in November would be taking office in the middle of the school year.

The costs savings and the potential for higher voter participation outweigh these minor problems.

Legislators would be wise to approve the change in election dates.