Former candidate seeks change in school elections
An unsuccessful candidate in this month's De Soto School Board election is seeking approval of the Kansas Board of Education to change the way the school district elects its members.
In a letter dated April 6, Richard Carnahan, a lawyer for Richard Brazukas, said 13 voters of the district "have prepared a plan of change in the voting plan used to elect members of U.S.D. No. 232's Board of Education. Mr. Brazukas is seeking approval of the plan of change by the Kansas Board of Education in order to petition for an election on the issue."
Presently, the De Soto school district has seven members, one of whom is elected at-large. Two members are elected from each of the district's three subdistricts east, west and south.
Candidates for those six positions must reside within their subdistrict's boundaries. Primary elections, if needed, are limited to residents of that subdistrict, while general elections are open to all district voters.
Under the change Brazukas is advocating, general elections for board members representing the six subdistricts would no longer be conducted districtwide. Instead, only voters living within the boundaries of the subdistricts would determine their board representatives.
Brazukas lost to incumbent Jim Plummer for Position No. 6 three days before the letter was sent. He ran unsuccessfully for that same seat in 1993 and for Position No. 3 held by Curtis Allenbrand in 1999.
Brazukas refused to comment Tuesday on why he is seeking the change, saying it is too early in the process.
John Vratil, the school district's attorney, told the school board Monday that the state school board returned the letter from Brazukas because it didn't include the signatures of the 10 district voters as required by law. It does, however, include a list of 12 district voters who support the change.
Should that technicality be addressed, the state school board is required by statute to determine if the request is "complete, sufficient and timely" and in compliance with state law. If it does so, it will send certification of that finding to the Johnson County Election Commissioner.
The next step is a petition drive that would require signatures equalling 20 percent of the number of voters who participated in the April 3 general election, Vratil said. By that formula, the petitioners would need to collect the signatures of about 295 voters registered in the district to be successful.
Should the county election commissioner verify the petition drive, a district-wide election on the proposed change would be scheduled, Vratil said. That election could be conducted at the polls or through the mail.
"That will be up to the election commission in consultation with the board and the petitioner," Vratil said.
The district would have to pay for the election. Superintendent Marilyn Layman said the cost of a districtwide election two years ago was $10,000.
The petition drive could be avoided if the district was to request the change. Monday, board members said they were puzzled as to why that wasn't done.
"With our open meeting policy, why not show up to address the board?" Board member Jim Thomas wondered. He pointed out the change would have made no difference in the race between Brazukas and Plummer.
With no explanation, board members could only speculate on why Brazukas wanted the change.
Sandy Thierer suggested possible motivations might be the expense of conducting a districtwide campaign and the difficulty candidates face in making themselves known throughout the district.
The change wouldn't assure seats entirely elected by De Soto voters, Thierer said. The board must redraw the subdistrict lines in October 2002, Thierer said. With the district's eastside growing much faster than the west, it's likely the De Soto positions will represent part of Shawnee.
De Soto Mayor Steve Prudden is among 12 people listed on the letter from Brazukas' attorney as supporting the change. Tuesday, he said his support is consistent with his suggestion that De Soto council members not be elected at-large but represent specific wards.
"I support that for the school and the city," he said. "I think that gives equal opportunity to residents in all areas. Sometimes a populated area can plug things up."