An even number of Brockton School Committee members create tie votes

BROCKTON – In the 1973 general election, Brockton residents voted to add an additional member to the city’s school committee raising it from seven total members to eight.

With the City of Brockton’s mayor leading the committee as chair, the eight-person board has existed for 50 years, making financial, personnel and policy decisions for all Brockton Public Schools.

Last week, the eight-member board once again failed to elect a vice chair to succeed Ward 1 committee representative Kathleen Ehlers, who held the role in 2023. The school committee voted six times over two meetings with each election resulting in a 4-4 tie between the two vice chair nominees – Ehlers and Ward 4 committee member Tony Rodrigues.

Why is Brockton School Committee eight members

Brockton’s School Committee differs from most school districts in Massachusetts as the 1973 vote altered the city’s charter, suspending the rule set by Massachusetts General Law for how many members sit on the committee.

Acts 1971, c. 696, a special act drafted to establish the change, was first approved on August 24, 1971 and was officially enacted two years later.

“Our Charter is 1973,” said Ward 6 school committee member Joyce Asack at a Jan. 16 meeting. “It’s time that we update things when it comes to our Charter and some of our policies.”

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What is the Mass state law for school committees?

According to Section 31, c. 43 of the Massachusetts General Law, “the school committee shall consist of the mayor, who shall be the chairman, and six members elected at large,” and goes on to explain the election cycle and tenure for each member.

Prior to the 1970s, Brockton’s school committee had seven total members, making tie votes likely impossible. In some cities in Massachusetts, the chair can act only as a tie-breaking vote.

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And, in other cities across the state, the mayor doesn’t double as the school committee chair, and that position is held by one member of the elected school committee.

Now in Brockton, the even number of voting committee members can lead to stalemates when making decisions. All eight members can vote on any matter on the committee’s table, or abstain from voting.

What changed in 1973?

While Brockton’s mayor has always served as school committee chair, the 1971 act added a seventh committee member to the board. Instead of having six at-large members, there’s now one for each ward.

Additionally, the act changed the election cycles for school committee members, giving each member a two-year term as opposed to a staggered voting process. All members were elected to their seats in the most recent November 2023 election and will hold their seats for two years.

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The current charter states: “Section 31 of chapter 43 of the General Laws shall not apply to the City of Brockton. The school committee shall consist of the mayor, who shall be the chairman, and seven (7) members, one of whom shall be elected by and from the voters of each ward of said city. At the first regular municipal election held in said city after the adoption of this act, one member of the school committee shall be elected from each ward for a term of two (2) years from the first Wednesday in January following said election and until his successor is elected and qualified. On said first Wednesday in January the terms of office of the members of the school committee elected under the provisions of said section 31 shall terminate.”

Even number of members creates deadlock

In light of the deadlock for the committee’s vice chair, Asack urged her fellow committee members to work to change the charter so it’s up to date. But Mayor Robert Sullivan said editing a charter is a challenging process.

For the second year in a row, the power struggle for vice chair has stalled the completion of the board’s organizational meeting, which is supposed to take place on Jan. 3 each year, according to Massachusetts General Law. Once a vice chair is selected, members will be assigned to subcommittees to continue business as usual.

“Even though the charter is old, to change a charter – it doesn’t matter if it’s city of Brockton – any charter, [there] has to be a charter committee, [it] has to go back up to Beacon Hill. So the charter change…that is a long process,” Sullivan said.


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