by NATHANIEL NELSON
and SARAH SQUIRES
Next Thursday’s School Board meeting will be the last for member Karen Coleman, who announced last week that she would be resigning her position. The board is expected to be briefed next week about how to move ahead toward November’s election, when two candidates will vie for her district two seat. The board could opt to appoint someone to fill the remainder of her term — but it has chosen not to in the past, including when former board chair Mohamed Elhindi resigned the seat before Coleman was elected. If the board chooses to wait for the election, it may spend the rest of summer and fall with a six-member board, one that has frequently cast split votes in the past. Under state law, tie votes do not advance a motion.
While most split WAPS Board votes have been on margins of 6-1 or 5-2, some important decisions have been made with 4-3 votes, with Coleman a member of the majority. Most notably, in June 2017, Coleman was a member of the majority 4-3 split to pursue the failed $81-million — $145 million with interest — property-tax referendum that would have rehabbed and expanded W-K and Goodview elementary schools while closing Jefferson and Madison and upgrading the district’s secondary buildings. That ballot question failed with more than 90 percent of voters rejecting the plan. The board recently closed Madison and Rollingstone schools, and voted to enter into sales agreements for them in addition to Central. But, with a lawsuit challenging the closure of Madison and Rollingstone before the Minnesota Court of Appeals which could upset that transfer, it’s unclear whether the last of the district’s controversial building votes has truly been cast.
At the end of the July 19 School Board meeting, Coleman announced that she and her family would be moving to Spain. Since her family is moving out of the district, she resigned her seat and announced that the meeting on August 2 would be her last.
This leaves an open seat that, if not immediately filled, would remain vacant until the November elections, when her replacement is voted into office. State law allows the board to appoint a replacement, but doesn’t require it in this instance. If the board opted to fill the seat until the election, a change in Minnesota statutes allows voters of the district to appeal the appointment if they are unhappy with the selection via a petition, which would render the appointment void. Appointing one of the November candidates would mean that they would be running as an incumbent in the fall, which could complicate things on that front, said Superintendent Rich Dahman.
“We could always seat the winner [of the election] as early as possible after the election instead of waiting until the new board in January,” Dahman said, adding that the electee would need to be interested in coming on earlier for that to happen.
Coleman’s office happened in a similar manner, when she was voted into office at a special election after the resignation of chairperson Elhindi. Elhindi stepped down after the death of his son, Solomon, to focus on a nonprofit project called “Solomon’s Song.” In that case, the board chose not to appoint, but rather held a special election, as Elhindi still had two years left in his term.
No matter what happens to Coleman’s vacant seat, this year’s election has a good chance of completely reworking the School Board. Four of the seven positions are up, with only board member Steve Schild running for reelection after the announcement that board chair Ben Barrato was cancelling his campaign. Board members Jeanne Nelson, Alison Quam and Tina Lehnertz still have a few years left in their terms, but January could bring a board with a majority of new faces.