The Durango School District 9-R Board of Education exists to provide district leadership, to oversee the superintendent and to establish broad district policies that set the achievement goals for our students. It serves as the link between the community that elects board members and the superintendent whom we hire to run our schools on a day-to-day basis. To provide the leadership that the community expects and deserves, a cohesive school board is needed. The cohesiveness comes from having a stable group that learns how to work together to arrive at shared decisions. This is what makes for good governance.
One of the biggest challenges that the Durango school board has faced over the last several years has been maintaining a consistent seven-member board that would allow the desired cohesiveness to develop. Ideally, after each election cycle, the new board would have two full years to work together as a group in governing the district before a new election and a change in members occurs. Unfortunately, this ideal seldom happens. For a variety of reasons, at least one 9-R board member has been unable to fulfill his or her commitment almost every year during my eight-year tenure on the board. Instead of focusing on district governance, we have spent time looking for new members, providing them orientation and integrating them into the group. There is a steep learning curve to becoming an effective school board member. Most members require a year just to understand how the system works. Adding new members so frequently really hinders the development of a cohesive board.
With this in mind, the school board is asking the voters to approve the reduction of the size of the 9-R school board from seven members to five. Currently, more than 75 percent of the 178 school districts in the state have five-member school boards including Jefferson County. On the November mail-in ballot this will appear as Durango School District 9-R Ballot Question 3A. This year’s Question 3A is not related to the Question 3A asked several years ago requesting a mill-levy override. The current question, whether voted up or down, will have no impact on the taxes you pay to the school district.
Voting yes on this year’s Question 3A will reduce the size of the school board from seven to five members. We will continue to elect members using director districts as we do now, but there will be just five districts instead of the current seven. The new districts will continue our efforts to balance the interests of both rural and in-town populations. For comparison, maps showing the boundaries of both the current seven districts and the proposed five districts are available on the school district’s website, DurangoSchools.org. Implementing the transition from a seven-member to a five-member school board will occur over the election cycles of 2015 and 2017. The transition process will allow the school board members elected this November to serve out the full length of the terms that they are elected for, whether two- or four-year terms.
Reducing the number of school board members from seven to five should also lead to more competitive elections. In recent elections, one or two seats have had a competitive race, while the rest have had unopposed candidates. This may make it easier on the candidates, but it fails to give the community the choice it deserves. In some ways, this year’s school board election is a bit of an anomaly. We are pleased that four of the six districts will have a competitive race. However, in one district, District D (the in-town district centered around Park Elementary), no candidates have stepped forward to run for election. We are struggling to find a volunteer to appoint for this district. Like us, school districts across the state are having difficulty finding school board candidates.
I urge you to vote yes on Question 3A. Reducing the school board from seven to five members should enable us to focus more on school district governance and the progress the district is making than on seeking to maintain a full compliment of school board members. A smaller school board should lead to more competitive races and reduce board turnover between election cycles.
Jeff Schell is president of the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education. He has served on the board for eight years and is term limited. He will leave the board when his replacement is sworn in at the Nov. 19 board meeting. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.