The Bend-La Pine School Board decided to let voters choose who will fill Cheri Helt’s vacant seat in May, bucking the trend of appointing a new member before elections.

The board voted 4-2 on Tuesday to wait until the May 19 election to find a seventh member.

Helt resigned from the school board last week, stating in a letter to board Chairman Andy High and Superintendent Shay Mikalson that the time demands from her new position as state representative were too constricting to return to the board.

“We’re close to an election — we should go ahead and send it to voters,” High said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “If this were July 2019, I think I might feel a little bit differently, (but) I’m going to be with most of my colleagues and support leaving the seat open.”

Board members Carrie Douglass, Peggy Kinkade and Julie Craig agreed with High. Kinkade noted that the last time there was a school board election without an incumbent running was in 2009. Every board member except Kinkade and Ron Gallinat was chosen by an appointment, and then re-elected as an incumbent.

Douglass was appointed in February 2017 after Nori Juba resigned that January, and Stuart Young was appointed in October 2014 after Mike Jensen resigned that July — and he was appointed in July 2012 after Tom Wilson resigned. High and Helt were appointed in 2013 and 2010, respectively, because board members resigned after being elected as Deschutes County circuit judges. Craig was appointed in 2012 after board member Kelly Goff died that May.

Douglass said that needed to change.

“I believe the way our democracy was created was to ask the voters to select someone,” she said. “As I understand, almost all of us were appointed first, so it feels like over time, we have sort of become a board that was selected by appointment.”

Craig said it “just seemed easiest to let it go to election” because the appointed member may choose to not run for re-election in May, or could lose re-election.

The two dissenting votes came from Gallinat and Young, the latter of whom said he felt “very strongly” about having a seventh board member as soon as possible.

“I don’t want to see the seat vacant that long,” Young said.

Gallinat said he didn’t believe the short incumbency would give the appointed member an advantage in the May election.

“I don’t think we’re avoiding the voters at all. It’s still an open election; people can run for it,” he said. “Does it give someone an advantage running with a three- or four-month stint on the board? I’m not convinced of that.”

Because Helt’s seat will be open and Gallinat and Kinkade will not seek re-election, there will be three open seats available in the May election. Whoever runs for Helt’s position must live in her region, which comprises most of Bend’s west side. Gallinat’s zone comprises most of the central-east side of Bend, and Kinkade’s position is at-large. High is up for re-­election as well, representing Bend’s southwest and southeast regions.

Those who get voted in will begin terms on July 1. The final day to register for board positions is March 21.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated which board members were elected without having been previously appointed. The Bulletin regrets the error.

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