Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
An unintentional error during the April 5 election for the Pettis County R-V Board of Education has brought to light many questions concerning board elections and perhaps a much bigger issue for the residents of the school concerning who should be attending the district as students.
After the voters in the Pettis County R-V School District went to the polls last Tuesday to cast their ballots for two candidates to serve on the school board, they thought had three choices: Aaron McMains, Matt R. Powell and Janice Klenke, when really, voters only had two.
It was not until after one of the candidates, McMains, went to the polls to vote, did he and the Pettis County R-V School District discover he was not a qualified candidate to seek or hold the office because he and his family do not reside in the school district.
“I know this is a very strange situation but I am sure it was all just an unintentional error,” Superintendent Cody Hirschi said by phone Friday afternoon. “I know Aaron, had he known he was not a qualified candidate, would have never run for office; it truly was just an innocent mistake.”
McMains, who came in second in the election, and his family do not reside in the district nor pay taxes in the district, which is a requirement for office holders.
The family lives on the line of the Pettis County R-V District and the Sedalia School District 200 which is, according to Hirschi, part of a much larger problem for his district.
“When I came to the district this fall I discovered I had some major residency issues that I had to face,” Hirschi said. “They are always very difficult to tackle especially when you have to tell a family whose children have been attending the district for years that they can no longer attend school in the district.
“Last year, before I became superintendent, Aaron’s children went to school here,” Hirschi said. “This year his wife started teaching in Sweet Springs and the family decided to send the children to school there.”
Hirschi went on to say that because the children no longer attended school in the district there was no reason for him to verify the residency of the family for enrollment in school.
When McMains filed his paperwork to run, the form he was given asked for four basic requirements: his name, the county in which he lived, his address and the office he was seeking.
All of the information supplied by McMains was accurate, and nowhere on the form did it ask what school district the McMains paid taxes to, which would have probably caught the error.
“Aaron really thought he was a resident of the school district because his children were allowed to attend here in the past,” Hirschi said. “It’s not his fault that previous administrators let students attend school in district who were not supposed to be enrolled here.
“Major residency issues are difficult to tackle and no one likes to do that especially when some of the families have been attending school in the district for many years,” Hirschi added. “Many of the families are deep-rooted in the community but it is the right thing to do for all the schools and families involved and for the credibility of the district and myself as an individual. In the long-term I have to do things the way they are supposed to be done.”
Hirschi said McMains has already submitted a letter of resignation, which will be voted on at the April 18 school board meeting.
The district has a board policy, (#0324) which addresses the situation of an opening on the board.
“Whenever a vacancy occurs on the Board of Education, the remaining members will by majority vote, select an individual to fill the vacant position until the next annual school election,” the policy states. “In filing the vacancy, the Board will inform the community and solicit applications.
“In addition, the board may affirmatively solicit qualified community members to apply for the vacant position. The Board or a committee designated by the Board will screen the applicants and will select no more than three applicants for Board interview. Candidate interviews and the vote taken will occur in an open session meeting of the board.”
Hirschi said the district does not have to rush on the matter of filing the vacancy as it can function with the six current members.
He said he hopes the board will be able to select a candidate by its May meeting.
“I feel very bad for all of the individuals who ran,” Hirschi said. “Matt (Powell) was the incumbent and he was re-elected to serve on the board.
“I haven’t spoken to Janice yet and I’m not sure of her plans at this time,” Hirschi added.
Hirschi did address the issue of Klenke being appointed to the board both with the Democrat and on a post on the Pettis County R-V Facebook page.
“It is the policy of the board that she will not automatically be named,” Hirschi said. “We will have to follow our board policy regarding this matter.”
When contacted by the Democrat, Klenke, who came in third in the election, said she was uncertain of her plans.
“I’m really just considering what my options are are this time,” Klenke said by phone. “I’m not sure what I will do yet.”
Hirschi also commented on the Facebook page that the responsibility for verifying eligibility of a candidate lies with the candidate themselves, which is correct to a point.
The Democrat has contacted the Missouri Secretary of State’s office and election officials to confirm who is responsible for certifying candidates for election.
Those answers will be addressed in the second part of the story in Friday’s edition of the Democrat.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484