WHAT happens if they hold an election and no one comes? That's increasingly the case in school elections, which cedes policy control to a tiny fraction of the population.
In Oklahoma City, where an important race for school board chair was on the ballot this week, only 6,583 people voted, roughly 5 percent of those eligible. Turnout in other school districts was also abysmal: Deer Creek (6 percent), Edmond (5 percent), and only 3 percent in both Putnam City and Western Heights. Turnout in February school elections typically ranges from just 8 percent to 15 percent.
Turnout in the Harrah School District reached 20 percent, but it's a real indictment that such a “good” turnout means just one in five voters showed up. Given that many people don't register to vote, low turnout means some school board elections and multimillion-dollar bond issues are potentially being decided by as few as one in 50 adults.
That's a recipe for fringe groups to take over the process, and also illustrates the problems created by holding school elections in February, separate from major elections. The races are so low key, many voters don't even know they're occurring.
One solution previously suggested by state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax is to hold local elections, including school board and city elections, in November of odd-numbered years, and move school districts from annual elections to every other year. That still seems a good idea to us. The benefits of democracy are lost when no one participates.
My achin' knee
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz has a sore knee that only a big paycheck can cure. Glanz is suing Walmart for as much as $74,999 as the result of a fall he took in a Tulsa store in October 2011. Settlement talks with Walmart weren't successful, according to Glanz's attorney. So now it's on to court. Glanz says he has had the knee operated on twice and “it's still not right.” The lawsuit says he has suffered damages, including bodily injuries, mental pain and suffering and loss of income, past and future. Yet county records show Glanz hasn't missed out on any salary since getting hurt. His attorney says the loss of income language was included in the lawsuit to preserve Glanz's right to make that claim, and if the claim isn't supported, they won't pursue it. That's awfully good of them.
Politics of drought
The ongoing drought has generated similar proposals in Oklahoma and Texas. Locally, legislation creating a $10 million Emergency Drought Relief Fund has gained House committee approval. The fund could pay for cleaning or building ponds, water conservation, water for livestock, rural fire suppression, getting rid of Eastern red cedar trees and other drought-relief activities identified by the governor. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has called for tapping the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for water conservation projects. His plan may draw opposition from some tea party elements on the political right while also needing Democratic support on the left to get the two-thirds vote required — no sure thing. So far, the Oklahoma proposal has received unanimous bipartisan support. Here's hoping Oklahoma discussions remain centered on policy. This proposal should live or die based on merit and careful analysis, not the political version of inside baseball.
School patrons make tough choices
Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts, far more than most states our size. But consolidation is an emotional issue; change never comes easily. Too often, that means students are effectively robbed of educational opportunities in the name of local civic pride. So it's encouraging that citizens in two districts voted this week to improve student services by consolidating the Dustin and Graham districts. The plan doesn't require either community to close its school. Instead, the Dustin site will house prekindergarten through fourth-grade students, and the Graham school will be home to fifth- through 12th-graders. One of the major resulting changes is that each school will now have just one grade per classroom and per teacher, instead of two, and students will have more electives. By looking ahead instead of clinging to nostalgia, voters in these districts have truly put students first.