OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school board has a vacancy with the departure of Bill Allen. What, though, does that mean? And what are the next steps?
Allen’s move to a residence outside the Ottumwa Community School District is a clear-cut situation. Iowa law lists multiple causes for a vacancy, including “the incumbent ceasing for any reason to be a resident of the district or removing residence from the subdistrict.” In other words, when your address changes, you’re out. The law does not allow for a transitional or grace period.
In most cases, vacancies “shall be filled by the board by appointment.” That’s what the school board plans to do in this case. The district will publish a notice of intent for the appointment this week.
Voters do have the right to petition for a special election. In order for such a petition to be successful, it must have the signatures of 100 eligible electors or 30 percent of the number of voters in the prior regular school board election, “whichever is greater.” Such a petition must be received within 14 days of the notice’s publication.
Iowa law is designed to ensure the appointment process moves quickly. The board must make an appointment within 30 days of the declaration of a vacancy to avoid a special election.
That means the deadline for letters of interest from candidates to fill the vacancy are due at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. Candidates must be residents of the district, a minimum of 18 years old, and eligible voters.
The board has dealt with vacancies in recent years. In 2017, Michael Burton resigned from the board. A year later Alex Barr’s resignation created another vacancy. In both cases the board sought letters of interest from those who wanted to fill the vacancy and made an appointment from among those it received.
The latter vacancy was ultimately filled by Allen himself. The board selected him from among the seven community members who filed letters with the board. They interviewed the candidates at a school board meeting and, shortly thereafter, Allen was sworn in.
This appointment is expected to follow a similar process, with the board speaking with candidates during its Sept. 9 meeting. Board members will rank the candidates, and the highest-ranking candidate will be appointed.
The appointment will run until the November elections, at which time the seat is up for election.