MAPS board discusses challenge of filling 6-year terms

MARQUETTE – The Marquette school board discussed members’ term lengths at this week’s meeting following concerns being raised over filling six-year terms.

There will be four seats up for election in November – those of President Rich Rossway, Vice President Mike Kohler and trustees Laura Songer and Brian Cherry – with two of the seats four-year terms and two for six-year terms.

The board decided in February 2012 to slowly phase in six-year terms following new state laws that prohibit school boards from holding election in odd-numbered years.

According to Gov. Rick Snyder, the measure was meant to cut back on the administrative costs of holding elections and was estimated to save school districts across the state a total of $8 million.

The new law forced school board members whose terms ended in odd-numbered years to have their terms extended to the following year.

That meant that the Marquette school board would have four seats up for election one year, and then two years later the remaining three seats.

By switching to the six-year terms, the board could avoid the heavy turnover, instead having two seats up one year, followed by another two, followed by the remaining three.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of the six-year terms, with Rossway casting the lone dissenting vote. He cited concerns that it would be difficult finding people willing to serve six years.

That concern was raised again at Monday’s meeting, this time by Trustee Matthew Williams.

Williams said he was worried people would only decide to run for the two four-year seats, leaving it up to the board to appoint people to fill the two other open slots.

“We could end up in a situation where four people run for the two four-year seats and no one runs for the two six-year seats,” Williams said. “I just believe that it is going to be a challenge every year for us to try to find people who are willing to serve six years. I think a four-year term is a little bit more palatable for your average citizen and it’s something we should consider changing back to.”

Trustee Scott Brogan said his time on the board has shown that people are often willing to serve longer than six years.

“Looking at the last decade, I’m not aware of any board member that didn’t put their hat in for a second term to go eight years,” Brogan said. “I understand what you’re saying and it is more difficult to be on the board now than it was 10 years ago, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s a concern, just with the history of what’s happened.

“For me, the benefit to the district of not having a large turnover every other year outweighed the concern of whether we could find candidates for six years.”

Others said the board should wait and see what happens in November before voting on any changes.

“I think you almost have to pick your poison,” Rossway said. “I like the two, two, three rotation, but at the risk of six years … I think that we see, if nobody puts their name in (for the six-year terms) and we start going down that road of appointments, I think we almost have to default and go with the three, four rotation.”

Kohler agreed.

“In November, you would certainly know if that’s going to be a problem,” he said.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.