Board seat may be filled soon

By Bryan Richardson

The USD 383 school board appears ready to move forward with filling its vacant board seat.

Doug Messer, former USD 383 school board president, resigned during the last school board meeting, citing “family, professional and personal reasons.”

The board has the option of leaving the seat vacant, but there’s no indication that the seat wouldn’t be refilled promptly.

“It’s just too long to go without a seventh vote and a seventh voice,” said vice president Dave Colburn. Messer’s term expires in June 2013.

Kansas statute allows the board to choose a person to fill the position.

This is far from the first time a replacement has been needed for a school board member. Since 1965, there have been 12 vacancies — 10 by resignation and two by death.

The last vacancy occurred in September 2000 when Farhad Azadivar resigned. His term was set to expire in June 2001. That also was the longest time — nine months —a board seat remained vacant. Unable to agree on an appointee, the six board members left the seat unfilled until after the 2001 spring elections when Dorothy Soldan, one of three persons elected that spring, was chosen to join the board early.

In October 2000, 10 candidates came forward to be considered for the seat. Roger Brannan, school board member from 1999 to 2007, suggested a secret ballot in which board members could submit their top four candidates.

“I thought this was a compromise to avoid hurt feeling and we’d give it to a reporter to satisfy the open meeting law,” he said. Still, the board never came to a consensus to fill the seat.

Brannan said most issues on a school board agenda are easily passed, but that isn’t always the case. “There’s something just about having another brain for consideration,” he said. “Having it down to six limited new ideas.”

Bev Eversmeyer, school board member from 1987 to 2001, said replacing Azadivar wasn’t as vital as replacing Messer would be due to the fact that elections were to be held the following spring. “At the time, it was thought the upcoming election was close enough that replacing him wouldn’t have to take place,” she said.

Should the current board decide at the next meeting to fill the vacancy, the board will publish a notice in the Mercury that a vacancy has occurred and will be filled by appointment no sooner than 15 days after publication. A special meeting Wednesday, April 25 might be dedicated to the selection of a new board member.

Board member Leah Fliter said having a special meeting makes sense. “I guess it’s almost like an open interview,” she said. “We would likely need a separate meeting for that.”

Some board members didn’t necessarily oppose actively seeking a new board member personally, but board member Pete Paukstelis said that’s not something he would do.

“This isn’t the type of service you want to twist somebody’s arm to do,” he said. “If they don’t come into it with a lot of enthusiasm, they won’t be a good board member.”

Eversmeyer said all boards are different but she thinks many would want a difference of opinion in the board. She gave the example of a fellow board member, the late Flordie Pettis, who as a black woman and Social Rehabilitation Services area director gave the board a viewpoint that hadn’t been spoken for before.

“In general, they’d rather look for an opportunity to fill it with a person whose point of view isn’t reflected in the board,” she said.

Hers is an assessment that board member Darell Edie can agree with. He said he would like to see a minority candidate. “I think it’s an area we’re underrepresented in,” he said. “There could be some viewpoints we miss out on.”

Edie said having another person with a legal and/or business background would also be helpful as the board goes through tough decisions about construction, teachers contracts and the budget.

Colburn said a candidate with experience would outweigh almost every other factor for him. “I really hope we have somebody that’s served on this board of education or another board to serve out this term,” he said.

Colburn said he’d also feel more comfortable if the person selected stayed on the board only to fill out the term rather than run for election. He expressed concern about giving somebody a leg up in the 2013 election . “That really starts to get sticky,” he said.

A candidate with prior school board experience would have the bonus of avoiding the learning curve a new board member would have.

Fliter, a first-year board member, said any new member will need to learn patience because there’s a lot to learn. She said open-mindedness and working with others are also key.

“I think a lot of people may be interested in filling a seat or running for the school board because they’re excited or angry about one issue,” she said. Fliter said anybody on the board would need to remember he or she is only one of seven people.

Board member Walt Pesaresi, one of the 10 candidates who applied for the Azadivar vacancy in 2000, said he simply wants to see somebody with a passion for education fill the seat.

“I have to know in my heart that person believes in kids and making our school district better and will work tirelessly to get it done,” he said.

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