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Votes

School Chairs Don’t Effect Elections

Politics is not a factor, members say, and candidate doesn’t see impact on race.

Following a unanimous vote, Elaine Furlow took over for Mary Hynes as head of the Arlington School Board Monday morning.

It was a timely ending to her term, Hynes said. Her family is in the process of building a new home, and her daughter will be getting married.

"So I will be busy on my own in the next few months," she said, and happy to leave the school board in good hands.

Family obligations may fill Hynes’ schedule, but she will have a busy autumn as well before the Nov. 5 election, running for her third four-year term on the board. The end of her term as board chair marks a midpoint in her campaign.

But it also marks the difference between School and County board politics. For years, County Board members have used their January chair nominations to provide insulation for members up for re-election.

The tactic has proven effective. Opponents of incumbent candidates complain that it guarantees free publicity to the incumbent candidate, as he or she shows up at county events as board chair.

School Board candidates get some of the same benefits.

"It’s true. The press calls the chair for quotes," said Beth Wolffe, Hynes’ only opponent in the coming school board elections. "I wish that wasn’t the case."

But Wolffe said the success of her campaign didn’t hinge on Hynes’ term as board chair. "My race is so much about the issues," Wolffe said. "She has an eight-year record, not just her time as chair."

<b>SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS</b> have almost never named as their chair the board member competing on the November ballot. Both boards usually only have one member up for election at a time, and board members’ terms begin on Jan. 1.

"We’ve never named the member running for election chair," Hynes said. "Well, almost never. We did it once."

That one time was in 1995, when the board changed over from appointed members to elected members. The year also marked the beginning of the board’s brief dalliance with a January-to-January schedule.

In January of 1995, then-member Darlene Mickey was named school board chair, serving her term as she also ran for re-election. But two years later, the board decided its chair should serve from July 1 to the following June 30, with the chair serving for the entire school year.

In fact, before Hynes, board members had spent two years with chairs not up for election. From 1999-2000, Mickey served as chair, stepping down in July 2000 to run for re-election – a race she lost to current board member David Foster.

Since then, the school board has followed a different calendar for its chair, based on the school calendar

In July 2000, board members named Libby Garvey to serve as chair, with an election for Furlow coming up in November 2001, and last July, Hynes took over as chair while Furlow was still running for re-election.

Part of the difference between the county and school chair positions comes from scheduling, Hynes said. A July-to-July term, mirroring the schools’ fiscal year, makes sense for the School Board.

"We’ve got a natural break in July that the county doesn’t have," she said, and in January, the board is ensconced in budget work and capital planning.

"January is one of our busiest times," Hynes said.

Furlow, the new chair of the board, didn’t see any real link between school board elections and who serves as chair. "I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from that," she said.