Will Edina school district continue $150k expense so it can keep elections during odd years?

Edina Public Schools appears set on shelling out around $150,000 to keep district elections during “off-cycle” (odd-numbered) years. The City of Edina offered to continue administrating elections for the district — as it has for the past 50 years — if the district will only change its election cycle to coincide with “on-cycle” (even-numbered) election years, as the current setup has become a resource toll and burden on the City.

The school board and City have been at odds over this all year. Email communication back in January from Edina City Manager Scott Neal stated that he along with the city clerk and assistant city manager met with school leadership that month to tell them they no longer wanted the City to manage the district’s odd-year and special elections and that the district should “start planning a transition to even-numbered years” after the 2023 election cycle.

Elections are getting more common, complicated and burdensome. Operating odd-year elections exacerbate those issues for the City. It is true that the School District pays the City to operate its odd-year, but that payment doesn’t offset the logistical and inconvenience that odd-year elections cause the staff and customers to City Hall. The City charged the School District $153,000 to conduct its odd-year elections in 2021. If the District shifts its elections to even-numbered years, the City wouldn’t charge them anything because we are doing elections anyway.

Holding school board elections in conjunction with general elections is already practiced in many school districts across the Twin Cities metro area, including in Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Lakeville, Minneapolis, Orono, and Robbinsdale, shared the community organization Issue Edina in email correspondence.

Data show that on-cycle elections have more than three times as many voters turn out on Election Day compared to off-cycle elections, according to a recent report on school board elections by The Foundation for Government Accountability.

Higher voter turnout would “appear to be more advantageous to our community as a whole,” continued Issue Edina. Plus, moving the school board elections to on-cycle years would also “combat increasing costs and save time and effort by city staff.” The reported cost to run the district’s on-cycle elections is $2,200.

“Why then, might Edina Public Schools opt to keep elections on ‘off-cycle’ years at a cost of $150,000?” wrote Issue Edina. “How many additional teachers can Edina hire [with that money]…? How many support staff…? How will Edina Public Schools resources (economically and administratively) be affected by a decision to administer public elections?”

During a school board work session on Monday, December 12, school board member Karen Gabler cited political motivation as her reason for concern over moving district elections to on-cycle years. “…[I]n this country, school board elections and school boards have become so politicized.”

It is absolutely a tactic used by political parties, is to move these elections to on years. I have personal trust in you all at the City, but I need to do my due diligence to make sure that I feel comfortable that we are doing this for the right reasons…and that everybody is aware that that sometimes can be the motivation for some of these things. Even if it’s not, the appearance of that could be very detrimental to both the City and the school.

School board member Regina Neville followed up shortly after by discussing the difficult “nuances” of having the community vote for both city council members and school board members during the same year, and that there would be a need for “education” on the differences between the positions. The board also offered concern over election integrity as a reason not to make the shift.

City officials ended the Dec. 12 conversation by “highly recommending” the school board make a decision in January.

According to The Foundation for Government Accountability’s recent school board elections analysis, “Off-cycle elections are decided by a small portion of the electorate and give special interest groups more power of America’s education system.”