BROWNSTOWN — There were at least three takeaways from the recent Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of school trustees work session addressing board representation.

For one, the three options presented during the first work session May 2 for changing the appointed process currently in place were taken off of the table. The seven board members agreed they weren’t the best options.

Secondly, two new options were presented during the May 31 work session, and the board agreed those were better ways to change the appointed process so there’s equal representation from the town and each township.

Finally, while some feel switching to an elected board won’t solve the representation issue, that’s not completely off of the table.

“A lot of people take this very personal and to heart because they were chosen and it’s an honor to be here by an appointed board,” President Scott Shade said near the end of the hour-and-a-half conversation.

“We’re all here because we want to be here. It’s a process that has worked.

If we have to come back to elected and that’s the ultimate fix to everything, by God, we’ll come back to it because we’re going to do what’s right for the people,” he said.

“But right now, it looks like the appointed board is working pretty well.

We’ve got to come up with a resolution that has not been here for 60 years. I think we can do that.”

No decision was made during the work session because votes can only be taken during regular or special meetings.

The work sessions give the board members and public an opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions.

During the most recent session, 13 members of the public attended, and five spoke during the final 25 minutes.

Dave Hall of Owen Township said even though the board has talked about transparency, deciding to take the elected board option off of the table had never been discussed during a public meeting. In recent years, he has spoken in favor of switching to an elected board.

Shade said when the three options were initially presented May 2, the board decided to pursue changes to the appointed makeup and see if they could get the job done that way. The elected board option, though, was not totally off of the table.

“Our preference is to keep it the way it has been because it has done a pretty good job as far as taking care of the school,” Shade said.

Hall also said Driftwood Township is the next one to fill a seat on the board, and he asked about that process and if the seat had already been filled. Trustee Mary Lou Burcham, who represents that township on the board now, said the three-member elected advisory board takes that into consideration and decides on its appointment, and that recently was completed.

Superintendent Tim Taylor said like other townships do, that would have been advertised in the newspaper. Hall, however, said he had not seen it posted anywhere, and the township trustee told him he wasn’t aware of a meeting.

“This is exactly the problem you said doesn’t happen, this works well,” Hall said. “This is the issue. I don’t like taking the issue off the table for elected. … I still don’t like the appointed process.”

The board agreed there’s room for improvement with the appointed process if it chooses to stick with that option.

“We’re not on here for the glory or the paycheck. We’re here because we want to be here, represent our township, do what’s best for the school corporation and the kids are at the forefront,” Burcham said. “It’s not about saying, ‘Hey, I’m a board member and I’m from Driftwood Township.’ We’re here to work as a team and to work for the good of the school, our teachers, our admin.”

One of the new options for an appointed board is to combine the two townships with the lowest population in a geographical area — Pershing and Salt Creek. Based on the 2020 Census, they have populations of 1,354 and 299, respectively.

From the standpoint of overall population, number of registered voters and number of students from those areas, it would balance out the seven seats on the board, Shade said. It also gives a contingency plan if things were to change and another township came into the corporation.

Based on the current appointed process, representatives from Pershing, Salt Creek and Owen townships are on a rotating basis where one of them doesn’t have a board representative for four to six years at a time. The board agreed that doesn’t need to continue.

By going with this new option, the township advisory boards from Pershing and Salt Creek townships would work together to come up with nominees for the school board and pick the best person to represent that area. That way, they would, in essence, have representation on the board.

“If a person is an awesome board member and served four years, (they are) representing that area. (They) should be allowed to serve again and shouldn’t have to go off because it’s another township’s turn,” Trustee Gina Hackman said. “We should look at it as a unit and choose the best person from that area. I’ve heard it said, ‘You’ve got two different boards and people can’t work together.’ I don’t believe that.”

Hackman said she feels this option is the best.

“I think people serving in those positions take it very personally, they know how important it is, they take it seriously and they want to do what’s best,” she said. “So they wouldn’t pick someone from a township if they weren’t the best choice to serve on the board.”

Shade agreed with Hackman on the two township advisory boards’ ability to work together.

“It can be done. People can work together to make things happen in that area,” he said, noting Owen and Salt Creek townships have a joint fire department. “When you talk about not being represented, but you are, you would be because you’re involved. Your township people are involved in picking that person. … You’ve still got a representative bringing your voice to the table.”

Trustee Clayton Beard, who currently represents Salt Creek Township, said he’s not in favor of that option. Vice President Brian Wheeler said if the board was to switch to elected, those two townships would be combined into one district anyway.

The other new option for an appointed board is to merge Salt Creek and Pershing townships and merge Grassy Fork and Driftwood townships. The area with the highest population — the town of Brownstown — would have two seats on the board, while Brownstown and Owen townships would have one seat apiece, and one seat would come from a township in each of the two mergers.

Then there would be an at-large seat coming from one of the townships not having a person chosen for the merged seats. That, though, would be decided by an elected official, including a circuit or superior court judge, county commissioners, county council, town council, township executive, township advisory board or the latter two jointly.

Wheeler said this option also would mirror an elected board since it’s based on residential districting.

Burcham said this option bothers her because she feels like it’s bringing in a third party to pick the perfect person to go on the board.

“My question is how much time do those people have to contribute to a topic like this when they’ve got a whole lot of topics of their own?” she said.

Burcham and Hackman both said they think this option will have a lot of turnover on the board, and Hackman described it as complicated and messy.

Since the board narrowed the appointed options to two, Shade said it’s now a matter of diving more into them and writing the language of how they would work. That may include establishing term limits with a minimum of eight years, reviewing the population and student numbers every 10 years and coming up with suggested guidelines for township boards in the selection process.

Once the board votes on a resolution, it has to be published in the newspaper within 10 days, and voters may file a petition protesting the plan or submit an alternative plan and have it signed by the lesser of 20% of voters or 500 voters within 120 days. The plan would then be sent to the state board of education to certify or disapprove.

If certified without protest or petition, the plan would go into effect without further action.

If disapproved or a petition is filed against the school board plan, the proposed change would go to a special election within 90 days of the state board certification or a regular election if one is scheduled within six months.

If community members initiate a change, file a petition with the clerk of the circuit court specifying changes and have it signed by 10% of voters, the clerk has 30 days to certify and verify signatures.
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