BERLIN — It is no longer just difficult for Berlin’s chronically shorthanded School Board to muster a quorum. It’s impossible.
Though the board doubled in size on Thursday when Nicolle Ferrier stopped by the town offices to be sworn in following her uncontested election Tuesday, three of the board’s five seats — a quorum — are still empty because nobody ran for them.
They will get another chance.
Despite belief the Select Board could cure the problem by making a post-Town Meeting Day appointment at its meeting Thursday night, that agenda item was scratched following advice of Town Attorney Rob Halpert.
Town Clerk Rosemary Morse said Halpert’s reading of the applicable state statute requires a special election be scheduled in the event a majority of seats on a school board are vacant.
They now are, and Morse confirmed the need for a special election after consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office. Scheduling one is on a very short list of things Ferrier and School Director Vera Frazier can legally do until at least one other seat on the board is filled.
In Berlin, school directors have regularly appointed members in recent years to respond to a surprising number of resignations. Three board members resigned last year, and two of their replacements – Carl Parton and Peter Schober – chose not to run. Ferrier did, but Chairman Chris Winters’ decision not to run for re-election created a problem board members saw coming but thought could be quickly fixed.
Morse said the law permits Frazier and Ferrier to authorize payment of the district’s bills until at least one of the three vacancies is filled, but they can’t make any decisions because there aren’t enough of them to legally meet. She hopes Frazier and Ferrier to schedule the special election before the end of the week.
Nominating petitions must be submitted at least six Mondays before the election, Morse said, noting the law allows prospective candidates time to collect at least 20 signatures of registered Berlin voters.
After consulting her calendar, Morse said April 16 is the earliest the election could be held, but that would require petitions be filed by the end of business next Monday. The other option is April 23, which would give candidates until March 18 to obtain signatures. The election date must be included on the petition before candidates can ask for signatures, Morse said.
All three vacant seats would be included on the warning, but there was no guarantee a candidate would emerge for one – much less all – of them, she said.
Morse said she would settle for one because that at least would create a functioning School Board, something Berlin won’t have for more than a month.
“We’d like to get this done as soon as possible,” she said.
Due to election laws, Berlin voters will be asked to come out three times next month.
The organizational meeting for the Washington Central Unified Union School District that was abruptly adjourned last month is warned for Monday, April 8, at 6 p.m. at U-32 Middle and High School.
On Tuesday, April 9, voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester will collectively consider the budget proposed for U-32 in the event the state-ordered merger of the five-town, six-school Washington Central Supervisory Union is delayed or derailed. The merged district is set to launch July 1.