VALPARAISO | After taking a hiatus during the election, organizers of the petition drive to get an elected school board in Valparaiso will resume gathering signatures soon, spokesman Kevin Cornett said.
Cornett said the group hoped to make the change through the state Legislature by campaigning against state Sen. Ed Charbonneau and state Rep. Ed Soliday, both of whom favor the current system of a five-person appointed school board. The petitioners want a seven-member elected or hybrid appointed and elected board.
"We thought we could short circuit the process if we could get one (of the legislators) replaced," Cornett said. "We fell short by a couple thousand votes. If we had had a little more exposure, we could have done some good. We've just got to refocus our efforts and get this done."
He met with the Center Township Democratic Committee on Tuesday to discuss the petition drive.
"With the City Council making noises about what an exemplary board we have, it's going to make it tough, but we think we can get it done," he said. "We don't want to mess with (interim Superintendent Michael) Berta's attempts to get things straightened out, but we need a more democratic board that represents the demographics of the population."
All five members, four appointed by the Valparaiso City Council and one by the Center Township Board, are white males, with no representatives for minorities or women, he said. With the overwhelming Democratic vote in Porter County for almost all the candidates except Republicans Charbonneau and Soliday, Cornett said residents seemed to be supporting a change.
The petitioners have added incentive to complete the referendum effort with Gov.-elect Mike Pence's announcement he wants to eliminate the elected state superintendent of education and make it an appointed position. Democrat Glenda Ritz easily beat Republican incumbent State Superintendent Tony Bennett.
Cornett said the petitions will be submitted to both the School Board and the City Council for consideration after at least 3,200 signatures have been collected. The group has about 2,500 so far, he said.
If the petition is rejected by both boards, it could be up to the state superintendent to decide the referendum's fate.