When you're a member down...

On Board Online • August 31, 2015

By Courtney Sanik
Senior Policy Consultant

Though it does not happen often, a board of education may find itself in the predicament of having to fill a mid-term vacancy on the board. These vacancies may occur because of the resignation or death of a school board member. A school board may remove a member for official misconduct or the commissioner of education may remove a board member for willful neglect of duty or willful disregard of a legal obligation.

When one of these stressful events occurs, there are mechanisms for a board to replace the missing member. How can boards prepare for this? Through board policy, of course!

Among NYSSBA's model policies is one called Filling Board Vacancies (NYSSBA number 2150), and it comes with helpful exhibits.

A number of variables can come into play when filling an open seat, so be sure to consult with your school attorney about the specific steps and policies needed in your district. NYSSBA recommends the board have a set of procedures in place that has already been reviewed by an attorney.

The biggest consideration when filling a vacancy involves the classification of the district, as different types of districts must abide by different rules. In common school districts, trustee vacancies must be filled by the voters at a special election which must be called immediately upon the occurrence of a vacancy. In union free, central, and small city school districts, school boards may fill a vacancy by appointment, with the appointee serving until the next election. Actions by a BOCES board's actions to fill a vacancy depend on the date the vacancy occurs.

As a general rule, any district may fill a mid-term vacancy by special election held within 90 days of the occurrence of the vacancy, with the individual elected serving for the balance of the unexpired term. If a vacancy is not filled by a school board appointment or election, the BOCES district superintendent has the authority to fill the vacancy by appointment until the next election or the commissioner can order an election.

Once the type of district is determined, the board should look to its policy to see if there is additional guidance there. Previous boards may have already codified into policy what the board should do and possibly a procedure as well.

Once the "how" is figured out, the next step is to figure out who is going to fill the open seat. Generally speaking, a member of the board of education must be able to read and write, be a qualified voter of the district, and be a current resident of the school district for at least one year prior to election.

Also, the board should not appoint anyone who has been removed from any school district office within the preceding year, who resides with another member of the same school board as a member of the same family, is a current employee of the school district or simultaneously holds another public office that is incompatible with school board service, such as town supervisor.

It should be noted that different types of districts may have additional requirements that must be met to be a school board member.

Once the new person is appointed the board can go back to business as usual, but the board is reminded that the new person will need to attend the required trainings.

If you would like a sample policy regarding this matter, please email policy@nyssba.org or call (800) 342-3360 and ask to speak with someone in the policy services department.

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