Residents going directly to state officials with education concerns foster an environment that erodes local control, members of a panel discussion said Friday to educators from around Arizona.
"Public education is the bedrock of democracy, but local control issues are putting our democracy at risk," said Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson.
The panel, dealing with local control, was part of the Arizona School Boards Association Law Conference, which drew 600 school board members, school administrators and lawyers to the Wigwam Golf Resort in Litchfield Park, a community in the West Valley.
Lopez said requests from the public to state officials have led to state mandates on matters best left to local officials.
Lopez, a former school board member, said elected officials who know their communities are in the best position to handle such matters and are more accessible. Keeping those decisions at the local level also helps preserve democracy, she said.
"It makes for a better government system for education," she said.
Lopez, who is seeking election to the state Senate, pointed to a 2005 state requirement that all public elementary and charter schools teach about skin cancer prevention.
"Why do schools have to educate on sun safety? Why not doctors?" she said. "It's just one more crack in the armor of local control," Lopez said.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said people with concerns about education are inclined to think that a one-size-fits-all solution is best, which leads them to state officials rather than school boards. But he said state lawmakers, wanting to be re-elected, are more interested in short-term wins than considering long-term impact.
"If it's a local matter, let's leave it in the hands of local folks," Strobeck said.
Panelists also discussed the trend of some districts being unable to find enough candidates to fill school boards.
Strobeck said school board positions are often thankless, with members facing hostility over unpopular decisions.
"It's a wonder we have anyone to do that at all," Strobeck said.