On October 28, the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to move to even-year elections, a change which will bring VUSD into alignment with 39 of the 45 school districts in Tulare County. The dissenting vote was cast by Trustee Charles Ulmschneider.
The move had been discussed publicly and by the board for many years, according to VUSD Superintendant Craig Wheaton, who noted that Tulare County Registrar of Voters Rita Woodard had been encouraging VUSD to make the change for quite some time.
Voter turnout is generally higher on even-year elections, and because the City of Visalia is considering the same move, the district election cost likely would have grown significantly if VUSD were to have kept to the odd-year election cycle. In the past, each election cost VUSD $30,000 to $70,000; if it had not moved to even-year elections, that price tag could have ballooned to $120,000, which would go toward the printing of materials, mailing ballots, the cost of polling places and stipends for those who help run the polls. Public agencies share the cost of elections in which they participate. Because more public agencies are moving to even-numbered year elections, the price of VUSD elections has been climbing.
“Most of the school districts over the last six to eight years have shifted one at a time to the even year, so yeah, we’re one of the last ones,” Wheaton said. “I don’t know of anyone still on odd years.”
Because even-year statewide primary and general elections draw more voters than odd-year elections, VUSD elections can now expect to excite more registered voter attention.
But, said Ulmschneider, this is the very reason VUSD should not have made the shift. “It dilutes the focus on the board to mix it with so many other political things,” he said. “Education is very important; it affects us directly and I don’t want to dilute it going under the radar.”
Most of those opposed to moving elections to even years usually say they don’t want school board elections to compete with and get overshadowed by the more popular even-year races, which include presidential and gubernatorial races, Wheaton said.
Keeping the election on odd years would also be to Ulmschneider’s advantage because there are no term limits on the VUSD, and low voter turnout almost always plays to the advantage of the incumbent. In the November 2013 elections, Ulmschneider beat out optician Elda Balderas even after it was revealed he lived in Visalia either part-time or not at all while working in Stockton.