Can Trustees Change School Board Elections to November? Only if They Are Loopers.

Trustees used to be able to change their term limits, but they can't anymore.

A move to November elections would save Dallas ISD a lot of money, but right now trustees would have to use this machine to do so.
A move to November elections would save Dallas ISD a lot of money, but right now trustees would have to use this machine to do so.

I’m putting together a recap of the first Home Rule Commission public forums, which were held Saturday. But first I just want to quickly highlight an incorrect assertion that relates to my Friday post on moving trustee elections to November.

One of the speakers at the W.T. White morning session was Dallas County Schools District 2 trustee Kyle Renard, whom you may remember as the person beaten by Edwin Flores in a 2009 DISD school board race. (As an aside: Dallas County Schools has almost nothing to do with schools in Dallas County, much like the Texas Railroad Commission has little to do with railroads. I think I’ll write about that one day). During her public comments — best summarized as “love the conversation about education, but please don’t actually do anything” — Renard said that despite calls from several speakers to change the election date for trustees to November, the HRC should not consider this. Because, Renard said, the DISD board currently has the power to do so if desired, and therefore a home rule charter provision is unnecessary.

Renard is wrong.

The confusion is what the school board used to be able to do versus what the school board can do under current law. A quick copy-and-paste exercise makes this clear.

Now, there are two areas of state laws that govern trustee elections, and these are found in the Texas Education Code and the Texas Election Code.

From the Texas Education Code, with the relevant portions bolded by moi. First, elections can be moved to November — but only every even year election cycle, not every year:

Sec. 11.0581. JOINT ELECTIONS REQUIRED. (a) An election for trustees of an independent school district shall be held on the same date as:
(1) the election for the members of the governing body of a municipality located in the school district;
(2) the general election for state and county officers;
(3) the election for the members of the governing body of a hospital district, if the school district:
(A) is wholly or partly located in a county with a population of less than 40,000 that is adjacent to a county with a population of more than three million; and
(B) held its election for trustees jointly with the election for the members of the governing body of the hospital district before May 2007; or
(4) the election for the members of the governing board of a public junior college district in which the school district is wholly or partly located.
(b) Elections held on the same date as provided by Subsection (a) shall be held as a joint election under Chapter 271, Election Code.
(c) The voters of a joint election under this section shall be served by common polling places consistent with Section 271.003(b), Election Code.
(d) The board of trustees of an independent school district changing an election date to comply with this section shall adjust the terms of office of its members to conform to the new election date.

A-ha! So we can change trustee elections to coincide with the election of state and county officers, meaning even year November election! Unless, of course, doing so violates another portion of the law. Let’s move down the ol’ code a bit, where we find the following:

Sec. 11.059. TERMS. (a) A trustee of an independent school district serves a term of three or four years.
(b) Elections for trustees with three-year terms shall be held annually. The terms of one-third of the trustees, or as near to one-third as possible, expire each year.
(c) Elections for trustees with four-year terms shall be held biennially. The terms of one-half of the trustees, or as near to one-half as possible, expire every two years.
(d) A board policy must state the schedule on which specific terms expire.
(e) Not later than December 31, 2011, the board of trustees may adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees. The resolution must provide for staggered terms of either three or four years and specify the manner in which the transition from the length of the former term to the modified term is made. The transition must begin with the first regular election for trustees that occurs after January 1, 2012, and a trustee who serves on that date shall serve the remainder of that term. This subsection expires January 1, 2017.

So, this doesn’t mean we can’t move to November, but a move to November requires changing the length of trustee terms to four years. And the board can’t do that unless it is currently or will soon be earlier than December 31, 2011.

[Checks calendar]

Sorry, it is apparently many years after that. Unless the board has a Looper-style time travel machine in its closed-session room — and, no, I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws — they can’t change the election date under current Texas Education Code law. Because DISD can’t change its term length for trustees, which it would have to do to move elections to even year Novembers.

Let’s check out the Texas Election Code to see if that offers the board a path to November.

Sec. 41.0052. CHANGING GENERAL ELECTION DATE. (a) The governing body of a political subdivision, other than a county, that holds its general election for officers on a date other than the November uniform election date may, not later than December 31, 2012, change the date on which it holds its general election for officers to the November uniform election date.
(b) A governing body changing an election date under this section shall adjust the terms of office to conform to the new election date.
(c) A home-rule city may implement the change authorized by Subsection (a) or provide for the election of all members of the governing body at the same election through the adoption of a resolution. The change contained in the resolution supersedes a city charter provision that requires a different general election date or that requires the terms of members of the governing body to be staggered.
(d) The holdover of a member of a governing body of a city in accordance with Section 17, Article XVI, Texas Constitution, so that a term of office may be conformed to a new election date chosen under this section does not constitute a vacancy for purposes of Section 11(b), Article XI, Texas Constitution.
(e) The governing body of a newly incorporated city may, not later than the second anniversary of the date of incorporation, change the date on which it holds its general election for officers to another authorized uniform election date.

Again, we missed the deadline to do this under state law. The law could be changed, a home rule charter for DISD could implement the change, but those are the only two ways we could move our trustee elections to November.

Maybe DISD should just cancel upcoming elections, extend trustees current terms until the next possible even year November election, and then proceed from there. That’s air-tight logic, Celeste!

Oh. The trustees tried that a few years ago. It didn’t work. And we wouldn’t want to try to circumvent such a law. Former trustee Carla Ranger says so. I’m sure she would rather us vote on whether we should move the election, and that would take the inclusion of a move to even year November elections for trustees into a home-rule charter.

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