Daviess Co. board, county clerk remain at odds over requiring schools to close on election days; local schools, public and private, are sites for 41 polling precincts

Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Dec. 16, 2016

DCPS wants classes on days with elections
County clerk still opposed
By Keith Lawrence

The Daviess County Board of Education still wants the Kentucky General Assembly to allow it to have classes on election days.

And Daviess County Clerk David "Oz" Osborne is still adamantly opposed.

"I don't understand their reasoning," Osborne said Thursday. "It would be a nightmare for us. As many days as schools are out, it looks like they could set aside two days for us to hold elections."

Tom Payne, a school board member, suggested Tuesday that when Kentucky school board members go to Frankfort to meet with legislators on Jan. 5, they talk to them about having school on Election Day.

"We could really make it an event," he said. "It could be a very positive thing. It could be a boost to citizenship. There's an increase in voting when children are involved. There are barriers, but they can be lifted."

Board Chairman Frank Riney suggested, "We could ask them to try it with the primary election, work with us and see how it works out."

The Owensboro Board of Education hasn't discussed the issue.

Asked about it, Superintendent Nick Brake said, "I see both sides of it. I do not have a real strong opinion, other than to say that if our buildings are open to the public and utilized for the purpose of conducting elections -- for which most are -- I think we should be closed for student safety reasons."

Schools had been closed during the general election for decades.

But in 1994, the Kentucky General Assembly, in upgrading election laws, added the primary election as well.

In May, as school districts were making up snow days and getting closer to June, Owens Saylor, superintendent of Daviess County schools, said he wanted to see that portion of the law repealed.

"More kids are going to miss school today than there will be people voting," he said at the time.

Osborne said he and the Kentucky County Clerks Association would fight any attempt to change that law.

"We have such a hard time finding polling places if we don't use public buildings, including schools," Osborne said. "We have to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and have plenty of parking. That's hard to do."

The clerk's office started moving more polling places into schools when the law changed in '94 because of those reasons.

In a letter to the editor in May, Saylor said closing the schools on Election Day "means 17,800 students lost valuable instruction time and most of their families were compelled to make child care arrangements on a day when fewer than 8,300 local residents made it to the polls."

Twenty-five schools in the Daviess County, Owensboro and parochial school systems serve as polls for 41 precincts, he said.

"We couldn't have an election without using public buildings, buildings paid for by taxpayers," Osborne said at the time. "It would be a nightmare."

Schools used to be out for the summer by the time primary election day rolled around.

But the state moved the primary up a week -- from the day after Memorial Day to the Tuesday before Memorial Day.

And school systems added a fall break as well as a spring break, pushing the end of school back -- especially when snow days were factored in.

Before 1994, if school was in session on primary election day, Osborne said, voters went into the schools and voted in hallways with children moving around them.

School officials didn't like that because of security concerns, he said.

And parking was also an issue when school was in session.

"Highland Elementary is in a huge precinct where a lot of people vote," Osborne said. "If school was in session, it would be impossible for voters to find a parking place there."

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