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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Education

Spokane school board begins discussions about changing electoral system

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 25, 2019, 11:25 p.m.

The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.  Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools district office at Main Avenue and Bernard Street is seen Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Public Schools board of directors took a first, tentative look Wednesday night at the possibility of changing how future members will be elected.

At the instigation of board member Mike Wiser, board members offered general observations on the current at-large system and the pros and cons of switching to a district format.

No action was taken – “obviously this isn’t a slam-dunk conversation,” Wiser said, but the board agreed in principle to further examine the issue down the road.

Wiser brought up the topic partly because the current board and most of the six candidates running this year are drawn from the South Hill.

“It seems fundamentally inequitable to me that everybody is from the South Hill,” said Wiser, who referenced a map published in Wednesday’s Spokesman-Review.

Wiser said he was intrigued by the city of Spokane council model, which divides the city into three districts. Two other school board members could be elected at-large.

Another alternative would be a five-district model, with all board members required to live in their respective districts.

All five board members offered opinions.

“This is an interesting topic,” board president Sue Chapin said. “We do have extreme socioeconomic diversity between neighborhoods.”

However, Chapin cautioned that “if you require board members to reside in a specific neighborhood, you automatically and artificially put restrictions on who can be elected.”

On the other hand, Chapin said directors elected from a particular district “would better understand what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

Board member Jerrall Haynes questioned whether a change would achieve the desired outcome of improving representation of certain groups.

“The reality is that there is a drastic underrepresentation of certain classes, despite the appearance of us trying to be more equitable,” Haynes said. “But that doesn’t change the profile of who typically runs for office.”

Board member Deana Brower pointed out part of the burden of increasing diversity rests with the board in the form of appointments.

That happened twice in 2017, when South Hill residents Wiser and Brian Newberry were appointed to fill vacancies.

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