Editorial: Help wanted (most all the time) – school board members

Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter appointed a highly qualified person to the Beaver Creek School Board this week.

She just as easily could have been mediocre and still would have had a good chance to get the job.

She was the only person who applied.

The reason she was appointed to the job – as opposed to being elected -- was because the Nov. 8 Beaver Creek School Board election did not attract sufficient candidates for the number of seats that needed to be filled.

Beaver Creek wasn’t alone when it came to this black hole of civic engagement. Six of the Verde Valley’s nine school board elections were vacated in November because those races had either just enough candidates -- or not enough -- to fill open seats. In addition to Beaver Creek, the 2016 school board elections had to be canceled for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome districts as well as the Clarkdale-Jerome, Camp Verde and Sedona Oak Creek elections for the Valley Academy of Career and Technical Education.

For Carter, there is some job security in this sad state of affairs. This week’s board appointment in Beaver Creek marked the 12th time this year he has had to appoint someone to serve on a school board in Yavapai County. He averages about 18 a year, and in total has made almost 200 school board appointments in the 11 and a half years he has been the county schools chief. In 2010, Carter had to appoint 26 different people to fill otherwise elected positions on county school boards. He did it 25 times in 2011 and 23 times in 2012.

In fact, he admits “it is very rare that we do not have at least one in the process at any given time.”

Using that always perfect 20-20 hindsight, the trend to expand from 3- to 5-member school boards probably wasn’t such a great idea. Under Arizona law, Carter explained, 3-member school boards are considered presumptive. Expansion to 5 results from initiative petition and a resulting vote of the people. Of the 26 school boards in Yavapai County, only five still subscribe to 3-member governance.

In concept, the idea of broadening your elective representation and allowing more people to help shape local education policy is a great idea. It’s supposed to be what this country is all about. But in reality – especially with tiny school districts such as Beaver Creek and Clarkdale-Jerome – it’s pulling teeth to get the required number of candidates to run for office in any given election. Further, it’s not at all unusual to have deficit candidate slates, which prompts Superintendent Carter to send out “Help Wanted” notices.

The November race for the Mingus Union School Board was a ray of encouragement in an otherwise cloudy political era when it comes to school board representation. Six candidates – excellent candidates to boot – vied for three seats on the MUHS Board. That situation, however, was the great exception to what has become the otherwise predictable rule of school board representation by default.

More might be better in theory, but hustling up just enough is reality for the Verde Valley.

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