Carmel’s city council is expanding with growth, so why not the school board?

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Since becoming a second-class city, a designation available to municipalities with at least 35,000 residents, in 2016, the City of Carmel has been preparing to add the required two additional seats to its city council through the 2019 elections.

The council has consisted of seven members since forming in 1976 in the midst of a decade that saw Carmel’s population jump from nearly 7,000 in 1970 to more than 18,000 in 1980.

Since then, Carmel’s growth has swelled to more than 92,000 residents, more than 120 roundabouts have been installed and undeveloped land has become scarce. But one thing hasn’t changed: the Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees still has only five members.

The school board predates the city council by approximately 20 years and has never grown in size, even as the district’s population multiplied exponentially. In the board’s early days, each member represented a few hundred residents; today each one represents closer to 18,000 people.

And that’s not unusual, according to Lisa Tanselle, general counsel for the Indiana School Boards Association, because in most districts each voter is allowed to vote in every school board race.

“The ethical principal is that you really represent every voter, because every voter had the opportunity to vote for every member of the school board,” Tanselle said. “Most of our (districts) are either at-large or residence districts, and that’s why in my opinion we haven’t seen that many changes in total number of school board members solely based on population.”

In Carmel, two school board members are elected at-large from anywhere in the district while the other three must each reside in separate districts. Voters, however, cast ballots for all five candidates. This is different from city council elections, where voters only vote for at-large members and one member representing their specific district.

CCS school board President Layla Spanenberg said changing the number of school board members is not an issue that’s been considered by the board, at least not in recent history.

“While adding additional school board seats has not come up in discussion, the school board has shifted the residential district lines to equalize population growth,” she said. “The board most recently shifted residential district boundaries in October 2017 in a plan approved by the Indiana State Board of Education.”

The redistricting process ensures that not all of the school board members live in the same part of town.

A school board expansion can be initiated by an existing school board or through a public proposal that receives support from at least 10 percent of voters within district boundaries.

School boards also have the power to determine how its members are selected, whether through elections or appointments. Tinselle said the “vast majority” of school boards in Indiana are elected, with less than a dozen being appointed.

DISTRICT       STUDENT POPULATION         TOTAL SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS

Carmel                    16,174                                             5

HSE                        21,642                                             7

Zionsville                  7,130                                             5

Noblesville              10,581                                             5

Westfield                  7,909                                              5

IPS                         27,630                                              7

MSD Washington   11,358                                              5

MSD Pike               11,253                                              7

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