Jordan Copeland, chair of the Joint Committee of the School Board Nominating Committee, met with members of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale Dec. 18 to address questions regarding the committee’s proposed 21 amendments to the SBNC resolution, which will be on the ballot Jan. 14 election at Scarsdale Middle School.
“In the last 55 years, I think it’s been amended 32 times,” said Copeland. “Often it’s amended every year … somehow we fell out of that regular loop.”
The last time the resolution was amended was 2014 — making the current lapse the longest since the resolution was adopted in 1965.
Among the proposed amendments, the Joint Committee is proposing to merge the Joint and Administrative committees into a single administrative committee, which would be led by an SBNC election chair and vice chair, as well as a resolution chair and vice chair.
The Administrative Committee recruits nominees for the SBNC and administers the election. The Joint Committee includes members of the outgoing Administrative Committee and recommends proposed amendments to the SBNC resolution.
According to Copeland, the current structure can be confusing and can lead to insufficient membership within the Administrative Committee, which forces members in the Joint Committee to volunteer their time to assist the Administrative Committee.
“We’re just…simplifying and streamlining it,” said Copeland. “It’s not more work for anybody, it just shuffles it around by a tiny little bit.”
In addition to the proposal to consolidate the Joint and Administrative committees, Amendment 5 would redefine term length so that Administrative Committee members will serve a two-year term while chairs and vice chairs will hold office for one year.
The current resolution declares that an administrative vice chair would become the administrative chair the following year, and the outgoing administrative chair and administrative vice chair would become the chair and vice chair of the Joint Committee. But the procedure hadn’t been followed because it has the former administrative vice chair serve simultaneously as the chair of the Administrative Committee and the vice chair of the Joint Committee.
“The skills involved in recruiting people and running [an] election are very different than looking through this [resolution],” said Copeland.
Proposed Amendment 11 allows elected nominating committee voting members to serve a three-year term on the nominating committee regardless of whether a vacancy was previously created in their election unit. (Members are elected based on their elementary school district.) Similarly, proposed Amendment 15 allows elected nominating committee members who move to another election unit to complete their terms.
Currently, the election for nominating committee members works on a stagger, where six members from each of the five election units serve three-year terms. Each year, two members of the election unit complete their three-year term and move onto the Administrative Committee, leaving a vacancy open for two new residents.
If a member leaves before the term expires, three vacant seats would open up during the next election and the resident with the third highest number of votes would serve the balance of his or her predecessor’s unexpired term.
The proposed amendments would eliminate the stagger currently in place and allow a resident who takes over a seat vacated before a term expired to subsequently run for a three-year term.
“It’s hard enough to find people in the first place,” said Copeland. “To burn that volunteer…when we’ve [got] somebody that’s willing to serve and able to serve…that’s the problem we wanted to solve.”
In Article II section C.4, the SBNC resolution states the Administrative Committee will keep a permanent record of its activities online and the public will have reasonable access to the information. Proposed Amendment 14 removes public access to all information and focuses it primarily on resolution changes.
“Our resolution, as it is now, says everything needs to go online for public access,” Copeland said, noting that the group is out of compliance because they don’t post everything on the website. “We don’t put all of our minutes on there, we don’t put every [note] from every internal discussion on there because there are things that are confidential or could cause embarrassment to somebody.”
Proposed Amendment 18 changes the nominating committee’s activities when it meets with prospective school board nominees. The proposed change would allow the committee to ask additional specific questions to candidates for the school board. Current practice doesn’t allow that.
“The feedback that we got … from some applicants was that it feels impersonal,” said Copeland. “You come forward, you say your thing, you get your applause at the end, but it’s a little bit like talking to a brick wall in a way.”
Copeland said the committee didn’t want “the smoothest talkers to get an advantage” and the proposal to allow questions is meant to “elicit further information from candidates that will help them” during the screening process.
Copeland said members of the nominating committee would decide how questioning would occur when each year’s committee adopts rules of procedure. He also said the nominating committee would interview all candidates only about their experience and qualifications. All candidates would respond to the committee’s same initial questions, but the committee could ask additional questions, which could vary among candidates, and they would be afforded the same length of time to answer them.
Each candidate would give a 10- to 13-minute presentation, then leave the room. At that point, the committee would formulate follow-up questions for the candidate, allow him or her time to formulate responses, and then listen to the candidate’s answers for a two-minute period. The nominating committee would ultimately devise the process for questioning, Copeland said.
“It’s not going to be just popcorning out questions,” he said. “That’s not fair.”
The League of Women Voters plans to release a consensus statement about the amendments in January. Its questions and the committee’s responses are available online at lvws.org.
The School Board Nominating Committee slate was announced Dec. 20. The public vote on the resolution amendments and the election of new SBNC members will take place Jan. 14 between 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Scarsdale Middle School.
— with reporting by Valerie Abrahams