Action Alert: House bill that would move primary elections to June is bad for school boards

Action Alert: House bill that would move primary elections to June is bad for school boards

The Minnesota House of Representatives is scheduled to take action on HF 1365 on Wednesday (May 13) afternoon. This bill would change the state’s primary election from August to June.

Moving the primary election into June will NOT be good for schools or any nonpartisan race.

For districts with a primary election, people running for school board usually don’t make that decision until July. Now, they’ll have to make a decision in January or February on whether they want to file in March. This would be for a position they wouldn’t even start until nine months later.

Putting nonpartisan school board members into a primary with partisan races only makes schools and education more partisan. Do we really want DFL-endorsed or GOP-endorsed board candidates across the state? Education should be nonpartisan. That’s why candidates for 95 percent of all school boards in the state are nonpartisan.

If school board races are forced to an earlier primary, you can also bet they will become more costly.

Now, when someone runs, it’s an August-October campaign. Rarely (except for metro districts) do we see anyone spending or receiving more than $750 on a school board campaign. Spread that campaign from March to October, and people will have to raise more money for that campaign, and now it becomes more political.

Today, if a school district opts to join the primary system, they have to make that decision by April 15. With an earlier primary, that forces the decision into mid-February.

These primary laws do not take the state’s 47 odd-year school district elections into consideration.

Does an odd-year district really need a primary in June when nobody else is on the ticket, except maybe other nonpartisan city council members? Does it give an exception for odd-year districts?

For the 47 districts in the odd year, a June primary simply doesn’t make sense when it’s probably the only race on the ballot and will probably result in fewer people running because they would have to know the election is in the odd year and then know that they have to make their decision in March for a position they won’t take over nine months.

Finally, an early primary system will ultimately do away with bond referendums that should be held (and usually are) earlier in the year so construction plans can be made and let over the summer. During the past two years, we had 25 districts go out for a bond election in 2014, another 23 go out in 2015 so far.

With the usual 56-day blackout days before and after a primary election, it would prevent any school district from asking for a building bond referendum from mid-March until the end of the year, except for the General Election and primary dates. And for those rural districts with townships, it would basically block them from February until the end of the year, except for the General Election and primary dates. This takes away much flexibility from local school districts.

We would ask that the primary date stay where it is. Or if it is moved, we ask for an exemption for nonpartisan school board races — so the primary for nonpartisan races stays where it is — and also an exemption for odd-year elections.

Contact House members and tell them that HF 1365 is NOT a good bill for school boards. Click here to find your local legislator and here for a list of House members. Rep. Kelly Fenton (Woodbury) is the bill’s primary author.

You can watch the debate over this bill via a live stream. Click here for access Wednesday afternoon.

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