Voters deserve a say in school board composition | EDITORIAL

(Las Vegas Review-Journal)

A debate has raged for decades in Nevada over whether it is wiser to elect or appoint judges. There are reasonable arguments on both sides, but it’s clear that some opponents of forcing judicial candidates to stand for election don’t really trust the voters to make informed decisions.

That perspective is now spilling over into the education realm.

Nevada lawmakers last year rejected a move to create a hybrid system of electing and appointing local school board members. Currently, all such officials must earn approval from the voters. Lawmakers did, however, pass a measure instructing an interim legislative panel to study the issue of education governance in order to make recommendations when the Legislature reconvenes in February.

“We’re not here to criticize anybody,” state Sen. Mo Denis, the Las Vegas Democrat who chairs the Interim Education Committee, said during a recent meeting to address school board composition. “We just want to study the issue and see if there’s things that we need to do differently here in Nevada and what we can do better.”

Sen. Denis sounds reasonable, but you might forgive local school board members for keeping an eye on the rearview mirror. It’s not paranoia if they really are coming to get you.

It’s absolutely true that the quality of those serving on the Clark County School Board often leaves much to be desired. The board has been a tribute to dysfunction more often than not, tending to lose focus of its mission to ensure local children receive a quality education. Witness its whiplash on Superintendent Jesus Jara, who was fired and then rehired just weeks later. Internecine squabbling and ego-driven feuding are enemies of professionalism and accomplishment.

But don’t blame the voters. Oftentimes, they don’t have much to work with when entering the voting booth to consider education-related contests. In addition, the mission creep of the public school system and the sheer size of the Clark County district has complicated the job of trustee. Yet rather than eliminating voters from the equation — which would bring its own set of problems, including potential cronyism — a better solution would be for civic groups and other public and private organizations with an interest in public education to more actively recruit and promote candidates with the background and skills necessary to oversee the nation’s fifth-largest district.

According to the State Education Encyclopedia, some 94 percent of school board members across the country are elected. This model promotes accountability and makes board members more responsive to public concerns.

Nevada’s public schools have many problems worthy of legislative attention. The fact that school board members must run for election isn’t one of them.