The Culver School District finds itself in a difficult position. Board member Dave Slaght was re-elected in May but resigned shortly thereafter to take a job outside the district. Now, according to language in state law, officials must appoint a replacement for nearly half of his four-year term.
Of course, the position needs a replacement. But state law should be changed so the default option is that a board member replacement should be selected in an election by voters — not appointed.
Slaght, who has served on the board since 2015, had little choice but to resign. Like most of us, he has financial and other obligations that require him to work, and if the work is in Echo, near Hermiston, no one can reasonably expect him to commute the roughly 180 miles between there and Culver.
Yet appointing a board member, particularly for such a long term, deprives voters of the right to choose their own representative on the board for almost two full years. We don’t doubt the remaining four board members will choose someone they believe will serve the district well. We do believe, however, that voters should be allowed to choose their own representatives for this or any other public board.
The Bend City Council and the Bend La Pine Schools have both recently grappled with similar issues. The City Council appointed Chris Piper as a replacement but may ask voters to make changes to the city charter. As for the Bend school district, when then-board member Cheri Helt resigned in January, its members decided to leave her seat open until the May election, when Caroline Skidmore was elected.
The language of state law gives fairly clear direction that vacancies on school boards shall be filled by appointment. It’s less clear about how long a seat must be vacant before someone is appointed to fill it.
Any state action would come too late to change the current process in Culver. The Legislature could — and should — take up the matter when it meets in January 2020. Voters in school districts should be given clear preference in filling vacancies on their boards.