Sunday, Aug 07th

Wondering How to Vote? LWVS Offers Views on Proposed Amendments to the SBNC Resolution

SBNCThe election for the School Board Nominating Committee will be held on Tuesday January 11, 2021 from 7 – 10 am and 2 – 9 pm at Scarsdale Middle School. Along with voting for members of the SBNC, (see their bios here) voters will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on eight amendments to the non-partisan resolution that governs the nominating process. The last proposed amendment would permit Scarsdale residents who are not U.S. citizens to serve on the School Board Nominating Committee and to vote in the election for the first time. Another amendment would require the committee to ask each candidate “individualized and differentiated questions,” which is a departure from the current procedure of asking each candidate to make an oral presentation.

The statement from the League notes that the tight timetable for the proposed changes from the SBNC Administrative Committee did not allow for “ample voter education efforts and solicitation of community-wide feedback prior to the January election.” They ask that in the future the SBNC Resolution be amended to “provide sufficient notice to the public of any proposed SBNC Resolution amendments as well as to establish a more meaningful public comment process in which to solicit, receive, and respond to comments from the entire community.”

The League of Women Voters of Scarsdale reviewed the proposed amendments and offers their position on each below. (Note that there is no number 5.)

Amendment 1 (Article III, Section A.4(d)) would require Nominating Committee members to recuse themselves from all SBNC proceedings if a close relative, as defined in the amendment, is a potential school board candidate being considered by the SBNC.

The League has consistently observed that conflicts of interest, whether perceived or actual, have a detrimental effect on any democratic process. Efforts to eliminate that perception or reality are in the greater interest of a well-functioning and respected democratic process. Therefore, the League supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 2 (Article III, Section B.1(a,b)) would establish and set forth the parameters of a formal orientation meeting for new Nominating Committee members.

The League has strongly supported and encouraged the retention and codification of institutional knowledge as a key component in a highly-functioning democratic institution. Therefore, the League supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 3 (Article III, Section B.3(a,b)) would establish a “Resolution Clarification Committee” to resolve issues of interpretation of or compliance with the SBNC Resolution.

The League neither supports nor opposes this proposed amendment.

Amendment 4 (Article III, Section C.2(a,b,c)) would change the procedures for interviewing candidates by requiring candidates to make an oral presentation to the Nominating Committee and to answer interview questions posed by Nominating Committee members. The proposed amendment requires the SBNC to ask 1) the same initial questions and 2) “individualized and differentiated questions” of all candidates.

According to the Vice Chair, input from current and former Nominating Committee members as well as previous candidates supported a required interview with the SBNC rather than an optional interview. The Vice Chair noted that a common theme of the feedback reflected the general desire for greater flexibility and interaction with candidates to create a truer “interview” feel in the candidate search process. The proposed amendment offers a general framework in which both initial as well as individualized and differentiated questions must be asked, but it does not enumerate the procedures for formulating and approving interview questions or the manner in which questions will be asked during the interview process.

While the League commends the decision to require an interview process allowing the Nominating Committee to better evaluate potential candidates instead of the current optional language in the SBNC Resolution, the League has reservations about the challenges in implementing a procedure for formulating and asking individualized and differentiated questions. Additionally, the League has concerns regarding the potential for bias which may result from such individualized and differentiated questioning.

Due to the above-mentioned concerns, the League neither supports nor opposes this proposed amendment.

Amendment 6 (Article III, Section C.2(d)) would require the SBNC to contact both references provided by, and at least one reference not provided by, each potential school board candidate being considered by the SBNC.

The League supports the proposed amendment.

Amendment 7 (Article III, Section C.2(e, f)) would require the SBNC to discuss objective criteria for evaluating candidates as well as the qualifications and experience of candidates.

We commend the SBNC for providing guidance in evaluating candidates to better ensure that all candidates are treated fairly. The League supports the proposed amendment.

Amendment 8 (Article III, Section C.2(g)) would specify the information SBNC members must keep confidential.

The League supports the confidentiality requirement of the SBNC’s nonpartisan nominating process and therefore supports this proposed amendment.

Amendment 9 (Article V, Article I) allows noncitizens residing in Scarsdale to serve on the SBNC and vote in SBNC elections.

The League recognizes the contributions of noncitizen residents who participate in all aspects of community life in Scarsdale and whose children are eligible to attend Scarsdale Public Schools. We approve the expansion of eligibility to vote in the SBNC election and serve on the SBNC as a means to increase opportunities for noncitizen residents to be engaged in local civic activities and to ensure that the composition of the SBNC more closely reflects the community it serves. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to creating a more perfect democracy. Accordingly, the League strongly supports this proposed amendment.

However, the League recognizes the potential for this amendment to cause confusion among residents, since, under New York state law, noncitizens remain ineligible to vote in the actual school budget/school board election and are ineligible to run as candidates for or serve on the Scarsdale Board of Education. We urge the SBNC to undertake significant efforts to educate the public regarding this disparity to avoid uncertainty or disappointment at the polls.

Conclusion

The League appreciates the Committee’s efforts to improve the SBNC election system. The League believes that a greater effort to educate the public and the provision of additional time to review and comment upon proposed amendments to the SBNC Resolution would increase community engagement and further enhance the nonpartisan School Election System.

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