Should Richland Township retain a seat on the Rochester School Board?
That’s the question faced by the current school board as it prepares to elect four new members this year.
The Richland Township seat, created in 1966 when the township consolidated with Rochester Community School Corp., is held by Tom Schwenk. His term expires at the end of the year. He’s served 12 years and says he will not seek re-election.
Prior, Dale Overmyer served 16 years on the board. Overmyer is now a Richland Township Advisory Board member. Before Overmyer, Tom’s father George sat on the board for 24 years.
There are benefits to such a switch, Schwenk said Tuesday during an informational meeting at the Fulton County Museum.
First, all other seats are at-large. Four members will be elected this October, then three in 2024. If Richland’s seat was turned into an at-large seat, the township would have a shot at a board seat every two years, not every four.
Also, there’s the possibility of having more than one seat on the board, if voters so choose.
Third, the switch would streamline school board elections.
It would not impact the school finances, or tax rates, as township lines have nothing to do with those things.
In 2018, the last time Schwenk’s seat was up for an election, a snafu in a previous resolution switching numbered district seats to at-large seats for everyone else caused Richland Center voters to be on their own. They could only vote for their own seat, but not the others. That’s been fixed, but the thought of turning the one dedicated seat into an at-large one cropped up.
“We want your input,” Schwenk told meeting attendees. “Does it still make sense for Richland Township to have its own seat.”
He pointed out the number of Richland Township students is undoubtedly lower than it used to be as a good portion of the children residing in the district attend Mennonite private school.
Superintendent Jana Vance said it’s not possible to determine exactly how many Rochester schools’ students live in the township.
Schwenk also wondered aloud if it was fair that the township has roughly the same number of voters as the smallest Rochester precinct, yet has it’s own seat.
A switch would have to be decided upon with the next six weeks so there’s enough time to submit a formal resolution to the Indiana State Board of Education, get on its docket and receive that state approval, Vance said.
The resolution has already been prepared by attorney Ted Waggoner. There will be discussion at the Jan. 24 school board meeting and a vote would likely come at the Feb. 28 meeting.
Fred McGlothin ran for the seat against Schwenk in 2018. “Until you find a time where nobody will run to fill the position, it’s not broke,” McGlothin said Tuesday.
If a seat isn’t filled via election, the state calls on the board to interview candidates and fill it themselves.
“I sense, overall, it’s probably going to be easier to have all at-large positions,” Richland Township Trustee Melinda Clinger noted. She and Schwenk mentioned the township alumni banquets draw fewer and fewer people as the years go by.
Betty Martens noticed the earlier snafu and has done some research on the issue. She attended Richland Schools one year before being moved to Rochester. These days, she said, the Richland and Rochester communities are more bonded. Old rivalries no longer exist.
“The Rochester kids, when we were little and playing dodgeball, were like ‘Get the Rochester kids!,” Schwenk recalled of the school playground atmosphere.