Schools could have saved Tazewell County money on the election, but refused

BEIJING – School buildings were not used as polling stations in Tazewell County for six years.

This will change with the elections of 2022 and 2023. Voters in 16 constituencies will vote in seven schools.

By reducing the total number of polling stations from 62 to 56, the county will save about $ 15,000 to $ 18,000 per election, according to Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman.

But the savings could have been double or more, between $ 30,000 and $ 50,000 per election, if Ackerman had obtained permission from all the county districts he contacted to locate polling stations in schools. Six districts accepted; five refused.

Ackerman was disappointed but diplomatic about the savings.

“I appreciate that all of the school districts I have contacted have a dialogue with me about this,” he said. “No one has totally closed the door on this idea. Maybe they will change their mind in a few years.

“I can make schools (serve as) polling stations, but I much prefer that this be done voluntarily.”

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Why use schools as polling stations instead of other buildings?

Ackerman wants to use schools as polling stations, not just because of the cost savings. He would also like to have buildings with better access for those who require accommodation under the United States Disability Act.

In addition, he said, he can apply for federal grants to improve access to ADA in public buildings used as polling stations.

“I can’t do this for private buildings,” he said.

Among the polling stations replaced by schools were several churches, American Legion and Foreign War Veterans posts, as well as a fire station.

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Why did some schools resist becoming polling stations?

With a new state law on the books that allows a school district to schedule a distance learning day for the district if its schools are being used as polling stations, Ackerman figured the schools he contacted would take the opportunity.

In the Morton School District In this case, the distance learning option was a deterrent.

After a school year in which the district went against the grain during the COVID-19 pandemic and hosted in-person learning five days a week, Morton administrators and school board members made it clear during the ‘a discussion on May 18 that they didn’t want to plan a distance learning day because of an election and waste a day of in-person learning.

“Additionally, adding a distance learning day would place a burden on parents,” said Deputy Superintendent Craig Smock, who will become District Superintendent after Jeff Hill retires after the 2021 school year. 2022.

Smock also said there would be parking and traffic problems on election day at schools in Morton, “and there are a lot of churches in our school district to use as polling stations.”

More than a dozen churches in the Morton School District will be used as polling stations.

School board member Tom Neeley said it would be beneficial for the elderly to see what’s inside Morton’s school buildings while they vote, “you’ll have to convince me of the need to have polling stations in our schools “.

“If the system isn’t broken, why do we have to fix it? School board member Jerry Rudd asked.

Morton administrators and school board members held their discussion before state lawmakers moved the 2022 primary from April to June and made the November 2022 general election a public holiday.

Schools will not be open on these dates.

Only the consolidated elections of April 2023 in the 2022-2023 voting cycle will take place during the school opening period.

Hill said he didn’t think the information would have influenced the board’s opinion at the May meeting, “but obviously that was not discussed.”

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Why have other schools embraced the change?

On the other side of the polling station debate is Todd Hellrigel.

He is the superintendent of Central Midwestern School District, a sprawling 200 square mile district in Tazewell and Mason counties that has students from Manito, Green Valley, Forest City and Topeka.

Hellrigel has given permission for Midwest Central Middle School, which had about 950 students in the last school year, to be a polling station.

Todd Hellrigel

The school is located at 121 N. Church St., Green Valley, near Sand Prairie Township Township at 102 S. Church St., the former polling station.

“I have no objection to organizing the vote in our college,” Hellrigel said. “It is not a bad idea to show our children over there the importance of voting, the responsibility that they will have as adults to vote according to their conscience.”

Midwest Central Middle School will be a Tazewell County polling station in 2022 and 2023. On the far left are the gymnasium doors where voters will enter the school.

Hellrigel said Midwest Central Middle School is more accessible than Town Hall because of its sidewalks and paved parking lot (Town Hall has a crushed stone parking lot) and that the vote will not disrupt the school day.

“There is a main entrance and an entrance to the school gymnasium,” he said. “The entrance to the gymnasium can be used for voters, and there is a foyer for voting machines.

“It is important that a school district be community friendly. Community organizations use our school facilities because we are supported by taxpayer dollars.

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Who will host and not host the polling stations?

These Tazewell County school districts have refused to have their schools used as polling stations in 2022 and 2023:

  • Crève Coeur school district.
  • East Peoria Elementary School District.
  • Morton School District.
  • Beijing public schools.
  • Washington Central School District.

These Tazewell County schools will be used as polling stations in 2022 and 2023, according to a list of polling stations approved on June 30 by Tazewell County Council.

  • Beverly Manor School and John L. Hensey School in District 50, Washington.
  • Washington Middle School in Washington District 52.
  • Beijing Community High School.
  • Beijing South Primary School.
  • Midwestern Central College.
  • The former Rogers Elementary School in the North Pekin-Marquette Heights school district.

Steve Stein can be contacted at (248) 224-2616 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.

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