After three members either resigned or were elected to other government bodies, the Portland school board could proceed with one-third of its seats vacant for the next six months.
Former members Anna Trevorrow and Roberto Rodriguez resigned from the Portland Board of Public Education after they were elected to the city council in November. Board member Jeff Irish resigned on Oct. 5 after disagreeing with the Board’s review of a letter a city employee wrote criticizing newly elected charter commissioners.
“We have a small but mighty board,” said school board chair Emily Figdor.
The filling of school board vacancies is governed by the city charter. The council must call a special election to be held no sooner than 127 days after the seats were vacated, which gives candidates sufficient time to take out nomination papers and to campaign. That special election would fall on the next regularly occurring election – in this case, June 14, 2022 – unless two-thirds of council members vote to hold it on an earlier date.
A special election to replace Irish, who represented District 5, could take place no sooner than Feb. 9. Elections for Trevorrow’s and Rodriguez’s seats could occur no sooner than April 11.
The city can reduce the number of polling places if it were to call a special election sooner than June 14 and expect turnout to be “unusually small.” As a cost-saving measure, City Clerk Katherine Jones recommended that they open a polling place in District 5, the district that Irish represented, as well as the Portland Expo Building for the at-large seats.
Fidgor said that the school board will discuss at Tuesday’s meeting whether to recommend a special election sooner than June 14. She worried that opening two polling locations could disenfranchise voters.
Candidates running for the two at-large seats could face an additional hurdle: a very abbreviated term. The terms for the two seats are set to expire in November 2022. Any candidate elected to the board in a special election between April and June would be required to again take out nomination papers for the November election, and be re-elected to continue the new term.
The council will vote Dec. 20 on the date of the special election. Mayor Kate Snyder said Monday that it will “most likely” be set for June 14, but there would be a public hearing if they decide it should be sooner.
The seats must be filled by the elections process, not interim appointments, the city’s corporation counsel Jennifer Thompson said.
The School Board inaugurated newly elected at-large member Nyalat Biliew on Monday night, along with re-elected members Abusana “Micky” Bondo and School Board Chair Emily Figdor.
On Tuesday night, the board plans to discuss a contract extension for Superintendent Xavier Botana through June 2024, as well as allocating funds for building renovation projects. Some of the bigger issues they will tackle in the coming months include the FY23 budget, participatory budgeting around remaining federal COVID-19 funds, and engaging in the Charter Commission process, Figdor said.