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Lawrence board opposes changing election cycles

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Lawrence school board members indicated Monday night they plan to submit a joint written statement to a legislative committee opposing a bill that would change the election cycle for municipal elections.

Board member Shannon Kimball testified against House Bill 2227 Monday during a hearing before the House Elections Committee. It would change the date of city and school district elections from April of odd-numbered years to November of odd-numbered years.

It would also change the terms of office for school board members so that new terms would begin on Jan. 1 following an election. Under current law, board members' terms begin on July 1 following an election.

The bill was first introduced in the 2013 session. At that time, Kimball said, it also called for making city and school elections partisan races, although that provision has been deleted this year.

Before the start of the session, the school board adopted a legislative agenda that calls for continuation of non-partisan elections in the spring.

Board president Rick Ingram said he's concerned the language calling for partisan elections could be added back to the bill at any time.

"These things get added at the last minute," Ingram said. "I don't know many people who think we have too little partisanship in government."

Kimball said supporters of the bill hope it will increase voter turnout, which is typically very low in spring elections.

In last spring's elections, according to Douglas County voting records, only 16.58 percent of registered voters cast ballots in local city and school district elections, including the $92.5 million bond election in the Lawrence district.

But Kimball said passage of the bill would disrupt the work of school boards throughout the state because it would mean new terms would begin in the middle of an academic year - and in the middle of a budget year. They would also begin at about the same time most boards begin their superintendent evaluations and contract negotiations with teachers.

Although the committee hearing was held Monday, Kimball said the committee would accept written comments on the bill through the end of the business day Wednesday.

Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who chairs the Elections Committee, has not yet announced when the panel might vote to advance the bill to the full House.

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