District 71 board in Niles will face empty seat
Updated: April 1, 2013 2:04AM
It was supposed to be a straightforward election.
In the April 9, 2013 election, four out of the seven Niles Elementary District 71 school board seats would be up for grabs. The four candidates with the most votes would win.
Yet, as the Dec. 26, 2012 filing deadline came and went, it turned out that only three people filed: incumbent Matt Holbrook and newcomers Jill Astbury-Brocar and Matt Glancy.
With the other three incumbents retiring, the upcoming election will leave the board with one vacant seat. Once the election is over, the board will fill the vacancy.
Voters won’t know what the full board will look like until May 2013 at the earliest.
Niles Elementary District 71 is made up solely of Culver Elementary School. Like most in Illinois, the district board is made up of seven members that are elected for four-year terms. The terms are staggered, so that there are three or four seats contested at each biennial election.
During the last election, four candidates ran for three seats. This year, the field is wide open. Board President Patrick Byrne, Secretary Mary Krueger and member John Zuckerman are retiring this year, leaving three seats open and two candidates running to fill them.
James Russell, the associate executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards explained that another candidate could enter the race if he or she mounts a write-in campaign. If that doesn’t happen, it would be up to the district to fill the vacancy.
The Illinois Council of School Attorneys “Answers to FAQs: Vacancies on the Board of Education” document explains that, under common law, a seat left vacant due to the lack of candidates should be treated the same way as a seat that was vacated for any other reason.
When the next term begins on April 30, 2013, the board will have 45 days to fill the vacancy by appointing a replacement. If the board fails to act, then the Illinois State Board of Education will have another 30 days to appoint the replacement. Once the replacement is appointed, he or she will serve until the next election.
Under the district policy, the board will choose replacements from a pool of candidates that apply. The candidates will submit resumes, and the board reserves a right to interview any of them at closed meetings. The board would make its final decision by a simple majority vote at a public meeting.
The board has an incentive to select a replacement as soon as possible. According to its procedures, all policies must be approved by a majority vote. With only six seats filled, a vote could end in a tie — and the district policies offer no way to break it.
Russell confirmed that there would be no way to break a tie — though there is one potential workaround.
“There really is not an alternative to majority rule,” Russell said. “The only exception would be when someone is absent during the vote. Three votes could carry the majority if only five of the six members were present. That’s not a recommended solution, but it happens occasionally.”
According to the ICSA document, the board could avoid that completely if one retiring board members stays on and fills the vacancy until the replacement is chosen. So far none of them expressed a desire to do so.
Byrne said he thought the board could manage with six members until the vacancy is filled, but it wasn’t something he would want to continue for long.
“A quorum of four board members is required to conduct meetings and vote on new business,” he said. “So, it is possible to conduct business with less than seven members, but you would certainly rather have a full board present when making decisions that affect the entire district.”
For now, the board is focused on other issues.
“The board has not discussed the impending vacancy,” said Byrne. “It would be up to the newly seated board to decide on a replacement, once that vacancy occurs.”