Teri’s Notebook: School boards should be chosen by voters

I had planned not to watch Gov. Brian Sandoval’s State of the State address Thursday night. For the first time in 15 years, I told myself, it didn’t matter to me.

But I only lasted about six minutes until I tuned in. And it wasn’t much longer after that when my jaw dropped.

The governor’s proposed budget called for some sweeping changes to education, including the way it’s funded and how the districts are organized.

Most of the proposals show great promise — increasing pre-kindergarten programs, enhancing gifted and talented programs and providing full-day kindergarten in all schools.

“A lot of things the governor presented are things our community wanted, too, when they put together the strategic plan two or three years ago,” said Ron Swirczek, president of the Carson City School District’s board of trustees. “I was happy to see there might be some funding for these programs.”

But some of his other recommendations left me stunned.

Sandoval announced the creation of a statewide “Achievement School District” to oversee the lowest performing 10 percent of schools. How exactly that will operate is yet to be seen. However, he also named former Washoe County School District chief Pedro Martinez as superintendent of the newly created district.

Martinez made headlines last year when he was fired from the district, but in a highly publicized battle, the firing was found to be illegal.

After all the hoopla surrounding Martinez’s departure from Washoe County, it was an interesting choice.

I’m sure there will be much coverage of that in the coming days.

The absolutely baffling moment came with the suggestion school boards be appointed positions rather than elected.

Swirczek put it succinctly.

“It’s nonsensical,” he said.

After announcing he will be calling for more than $800 million in taxes over the next two years to pay for K-12 education, it did seem to fly in the face of reason — or at least, democracy — to then take the taxpayer out of the decision-making process.

“It’s taxpayers who are paying for education,” said trustee Stacie Wilke. “You’re taking away their say. It takes all of the rights of the voters away.”

Richard Stokes, superintendent of the Carson City School District, pointed to the board’s work with the community in crafting the district’s strategic plan.

“I am content with the current system,” he said. “That was the intention of school boards, to have community input, chosen by the people.”

It also leaves several questions unanswered, such as who would appoint the boards, how long would the terms be and how would trustees be removed if circumstances warranted, among others.

The answer to those questions is now, as it should be, in the hands of the people. Voters make their opinions known at the polls.

“It’s the American way,” Stokes said.

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com or (775) 220-5333.


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