Some on D.158 board at odds over how to fill vacancy

2013-08-31T20:11:00Z 2013-09-01T15:28:03Z Some on D.158 board at odds over how to fill vacancyPaul Czapkowicz Times Correspondent
August 31, 2013 8:11 pm  • 

LANSING | History is repeating itself in Lansing Elementary District 158.

With the resignation of longtime School Board member Jerry Kern last month, a replacement to serve out Kern's term must now be chosen by the remaining members.

Board President Robert Wood has expressed his preference to appoint a minority to the position, particularly one whose children attend school in the district, and has specifically mentioned former board member Brian Stewart as an ideal candidate.

Of the six current D.158 School Board members, all are white and only two have a child that attends a district school.

Board member Anthony Arens believes the board should offer the open seat to the highest vote-getter that did not win election this past April.

Seven had vied for four seats. Wood, Jeffry Kiester, Suzanne Long and Chuck Taylor won, while Jeff Zupan finished fifth, Thomas McSwiggan sixth and Stewart seventh.

"It's time for the democratic process to prevail," Arens said. "We work for the taxpayer and the voter."

Arens took the same stance in May 2011 when Robert Bonifazi was appointed to serve out the term of John Sufie, who had resigned, and in May 2012 when Stewart was appointed to fill the vacancy created when former board President Joe LaBella resigned.

On both of those occasions, the board did not appoint the next highest vote-getter in the most recent election.

Wood said he considers Arens' point of view a valid one, but one with which he does not agree.

He said one of the issues at hand is that board members are elected at large.

"Being elected at large doesn't necessarily give every minority faction of a body a voice," Wood said.

He also said voters are not the only constituency the board serves, as it also represents businesses and the children of the district.

"I think it's important for the young people to know that the board is a blended mix that represents all of our communities and all of the constituencies," Wood said. "I don't feel obligated to rely solely upon who finished next in the votes."

Arens said he would not have a problem appointing Stewart if he had finished fifth in the voting.

He said not following election results is not only disrespectful to the voters but also to the candidates who made an effort to have petitions signed, attend forums and knock on doors.

"Why does this board keep appointing who they want?" Arens asked.

He does not agree that having a child who attends school in the district should be a qualifying factor.

"Seventy-five percent of the people in the district don't use the schools, so why do you have to have a kid there?" Arens said. "You have to have the business sense to protect the money."

Kiester said the next board member should be chosen based on the strength of his or her resume, but he also said he sees logic in Arens' opinion since the election was just this past April.

"Considering it is so close to the election time, I think that has very good merit," Kiester said.

Wood said no special meeting is planned prior to the School Board meeting on Sept. 18, at which time residents of District 158 who want to fill the open seat will have an opportunity to address the board.

"We anticipate making a decision in closed session and then coming out and voting afterwards," Wood said.

He said all board members are free to nominate a candidate in closed session.

"A good, spirited discussion in closed session, I think, will allow the six of us to iron it out and get a fine candidate, whomever it might be," Wood said.

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