By BEN MITCHELL
The Board of Directors for the Lyle School District has had some trouble seeing eye-to-eye with its constituents this year and the trend doesn't seem to be changing anytime soon.
Vern Harpole, a semi-retired physician who has lived in Lyle for about five years, has been spearheading an effort for the past couple weeks to dissolve the current directorship boundaries and form new ones.
For the past few years, Harpole has been trying to get the school board to put up a ballot measure that would redraw what he views as obsolete directorship boundaries. So far, he has had no success.
"In 2009, I asked the school board why the districts are so goofy and they said, 'Yeah, they need to be fixed,'" said Harpole. "And I thought they were going to do something about it."
So far, the board has been reluctant to do so. Tria Bullard, who has been a director for Position 3 since March, made a motion during the May 17 regular board meeting to have the redistricting question put up for a ballot measure. The motion died due to lack of a second.
Harpole has since started circulating a petition with the help of other like-minded individuals to get a redistricting measure on the ballot. He says the grassroots effort has garnered overwhelming support.
"We have not run into a single person refusing to sign [the petition] because they thought it was a bad idea," Harpole said proudly.
Speaking with The Enterprise on Friday, Harpole said at least 150 signatures had been collected so far in support of redistricting.
"We're well over halfway," noted Harpole, "and we've been doing this for less than a week."
According to RCW 28A.343.050, the petition must receive signatures of at least 20 percent of the registered voters within the district before the question of redistricting can make it on a ballot. Current geographic director districts could be reduced from five to three under the law, with no more than two additional at-large director positions available.
Harpole and other supporters of the petition say Lyle needs to go through redistricting for several reasons. For one, special districts are required to review their territory after every decennial census and determine whether or not there have been "significant changes" to their population levels over the past ten years. If districts' governing bodies (the board of directors, in this case) decide there has been no "significant change," district boundaries can stay the same.
Harpole said that Lyle has not adjusted its directorship boundaries since 1993 despite changes in population. The petition asserts that the district population increased by almost 500 people in between the 1990 and 2010 censuses and that population is not evenly distributed across the director districts. RCW 29A.76.010 states that each district "shall be as nearly equal in population as possible."
Klickitat County Auditor Brenda Sorensen confirmed that the school board had last redistricted in June 1993. She stated that her office accepts whatever recommendations districts send.
"It's not our place to question special districts' recommendations," she said.
In addition to population disparity, Harpole called the current boundaries "very random" and took particular umbrage with the fact that the town of Lyle was carved up among three different director districts.
However, Harpole said these are not his main points of contention.
"The petition is being done not so much because voters are feeling unevenly represented but because there is dissatisfaction with the current board," explained Harpole "and there is no way an interested person can run for a seat unless the person lives in the appropriate area on the correct four-year [director election] cycle."
Harpole felt that it was "overkill" to divide up the district into five parts. He said people he had spoken with during his petition canvassing supported the creation of the at-large positions and "want people on the board that have an interest in the school, no matter where they live."
Harpole admitted he himself would like to run for a director position. He says he has always been interested in education due to the very positive experience he had going to public schools during his formative years in Bend, Ore. and wants the children of Lyle to have the same.
By the end of June, Harpole hopes to have enough signatures to get the item on the ballot for the general election in November, but redistricting can't happen until each incumbent director's term has expired. Still, Harpole thinks the petition is a good start and hopes the formation of at-large positions, which could be up for election every other year, will allow more people to serve on the school board.
"We know it's going to take two or three years," said Harpole, "but it's the first step to get more involvement."