The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 4, 2014

COLUMN: Some helpful hints for BOE election

I came to a conclusion a couple of weeks ago.

The race for the Marion County Board of Education is complicated.

Actually, I’ve had that knowledge for some time now. I’m an old editor — the isn't my first election. But when BOE seats are on the ballot, I always feel like we need to explain to voters exactly how the process works to put people on the board.

Five seats. Three magisterial districts. Each of the districts must have at least one representative. There can be no more than two for a given district.

I had my head wrapped around it. I scheduled a story for last week with the aim of explaining the complicated process to readers. But trying to explain it to reporter Chelsi Baker ended with me pretty tongue tied and annoyed with myself.

“It’s OK,” she assured me. “I have a college degree. I think I can figure it out.”

We shared a laugh over that one. And then a few hours later, we were both going over the story and scratching our heads. Though I understood it, I couldn’t explain it well enough.

Then I looked up at a little printout that hangs on my office door. It’s a picture of Albert Einstein with the quote attributed to the scientist — "If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough."

I’m not typically a visual kind of learner. I usually get as much information from reading a paragraph as seeing a diagram. But because it was obvious that I didn’t understand the dynamics of this election, I headed to the conference room with a few markers and a clean white board.

What I ended up with was probably more complicated that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. But I was able to wrap my head around it. Then I pulled in reporter Emily Gallagher and explained it to her. She offered a couple of insights and we settled on the least complicated way to explain it to readers who will be casting their votes on this nonpartisan ballot.

Emily and I explained our conclusion to Chelsi. We all agreed it was the simplest and least-confusing way to explain it to the readers.

So through this whole process, I’ve come up with a few helpful hints when it comes to voting for the representatives on the BOE.

• Each voter can vote for three candidates. You are not limited to voting for the candidates within your district. This is always a source of confusion for voters, it seems.

• There will be one candidate elected from the West Augusta District, no matter what. In my opinion, the right thing to do is to decide who you feel should represent the North Marion area between the two candidates and use one of your three votes for that person. One of the two will be seated no matter what, and you should use your vote and your voice to say which one that will be.

• With your two votes left, give your support to who you believe should be seated on the board. But one disclaimer: There is already one Palatine representative and one Middletown representative on the BOE. That means that at most, only one candidate from Palatine and one candidate from Middletown could be elected.

Let’s say you vote for two Palatine candidates. You’re essentially “wasting” one of your votes. There is no scenario where two Palatine candidates could possibly be elected to the BOE when voters head to the polls May 13. The same applies to candidates in the Middletown race. Voting for two almost negates one of your votes. But two can be elected from West Augusta, so if you support both candidates on the ballot, by all means cast your votes for them.

• Just because the process seems a little complicated, it should not prevent you from voting and using the most powerful tool you have as a registered voter.

Understand this is coming from a mom who will have a child in the school system for the next dozen or so years, so this is pretty important to me.

The most crucial thing the BOE does is employ a superintendent, who runs the system and makes day-to-day decisions about staffing, curriculum, the calendar, facilities and policies. The BOE ultimately gives the final blessing on most things, but it is at the advice of the person they employ in that role.

It is a huge responsibility. These five people essentially manage the county’s largest employer. Almost every single person in this county is affected by decisions the board makes — whether they be taxpayers, employees, have children or grandchildren in the schools or have a school in their community.

So vote. And vote with that in mind. But no matter what, vote.

Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached by email at mpoe@timeswv.com, on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV or by phone at 304-367-2523.

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