The board of the Gilbert Unified School District has a shockingly obvious question — why does anyone but the local community select members of any school board?
Arizona school districts have elections, of course, and voters select who will represent their interests in raising and spending tax dollars to educate many of our children. But whenever a school board member leaves office before the formal end of a term, a replacement is appointed by the county superintendent of public instruction. The superintendent also fills school board seats if not enough candidates enter a particular election.
With dozens of school districts in Maricopa County, and more than 200 across Arizona, county superintendents are called upon frequently to fill up school boards. The process is largely opaque as the choice comes down to a single person who can use any criteria he or she wishes to fill the vacancies.
There haven’t been any widespread scandals with this process. But at times, districts in Maricopa County have complained about lengthy delays. In Gilbert’s case, two months passed before Lily Tram was selected to fill an open seat.
Just as troubling, the appointment process takes the choice away from local residents and puts it before a county official who’s under no obligation to look out for an individual school district’s interests.
There’s no reason for school board members to be picked this way. Special elections are a common method of filling vacant seats. If that’s too expensive or time-consuming, school boards could pick their own temporary replacements until the next regular election.
City councils in Arizona follow that approach all the time. Usually, the councils select a new colleague in a transparent and public manner, so voters can hold their council members accountable if they don’t like the outcome.
Lawmakers should heed the call of the Gilbert school board to change the appointment process for vacant seats. The decision should be in the hands of the community that is directly affected by who sits in that office.