Schools want reimbursement for election security

The Illinois Association of School Boards is pursuing legislation that would require local election agencies to pay any costs incurred by school districts when a school is used as a polling place.

Officials from Indian Prairie Unit District 204 - which has dozens of schools in Naperville, Aurora and Bolingbrook - championed the proposal at a recent gathering of association delegates, claiming they spend about $10,000 each election on security at schools when students are present.

"This does not include the cost of the additional time and energy our administration puts in place to make all the arrangements," District 204 board member Cathy Piehl wrote in an email when asked about the school board's position.

IASB delegates voted 157-148 on Nov. 18 to seek sponsorship of the proposed bill. Some delegates favoring the bill cited the uptick in political rancor as a reason for calling for safer voting locations, according to an IASB news release,

Harrisburg Unit District 3 board member Tom DeNeal opposed the proposal, saying districts should "embrace the election process" as a learning opportunity for students.

"We should be teaching young people it is a privilege and right to vote, not an inconvenience," he said before delegates voted.

State law prevents districts from refusing to allow schools to be used as polling places. Many districts supporting the proposal say the Election Day process places creates attendance issues, staffing problems and security issues.

Election officials say schools are often chosen as polling sites because they meet accessibility guidelines, while many other potential locations do not.

"We've suggested that schools use Election Day as one of those days when only the teachers are there instead of when they normally have those days on a Friday, but I think they like their three-day weekends," said Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham. "If they could use one of those institute days on Election Day, there'd be no danger to students."

Cunningham said such a law would have no effect on his office because it already provides uniformed police officers at schools used as polling places.

"We provide a police officer and a squad car out front," Cunningham said. "It's probably one of the safest days the school has."

State Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican whose district includes part of District 204, said he hasn't been approached yet about sponsoring any potential bill that IASB is drafting. Wehrli said he has some reservations about it.

"I understand this is what happens when budgets get tight and dollars have to be used for things that aren't education-based, but this is a community service and if not (at a school), then where else?" Wehrli said.

The next election is a primary slated for March 20.

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