Statute lays muddy foundation for school board primary

Three of the four candidates in the race for the at-large seat on the Shawnee Mission School Board will move on from the March 1 primary to the April 5 general election. But two of the four primary candidates must be eliminated.

Such is the logic-problem conundrum posed by the wording of Kansas statute 25-2021, which governs state school board primaries. The statute, last amended and adopted by the legislature in 2008 reads as follows:

Statute 25-2021: Primary election, when required; write-in candidates. (a) A primary election shall be held if needed to reduce the number of candidates for each office in the general election to no more than three candidates. No primary election of school district board members shall be held unless by holding such primary two or more persons will be eliminated as candidates for office. In the event there are not more than three times the number of candidates as there are board members to be elected, the names of the candidates for such office shall not appear on the primary election ballots, and there shall be no primary election for such office, but the names of such candidates shall be placed on the general school board election ballot.

Though to the lay person reading the statue (i.e. me), the definitive line appears to be “No primary election of school district board members shall be held unless by holding such primary two or more persons will be eliminated as candidates for office,” both the Johnson County Election Office and the Shawnee Mission School District report they interpret the statute as requiring only one of the four candidates be eliminated.

This interpretation could be seen as handicapping the three school board candidates from the SM East area. Assuming two of the three candidates who emerge from the primary are from Prairie Village, Fairway or Mission Hills, they would likely be competing for support from area residents, splitting the local voter base.