The Durango School District 9-R Board of Education has had a dickens of a time keeping its seven seats filled to capacity in recent years. For various reasons, too many board members have been unable to fulfill their commitment to serve, leaving those remaining to find replacements and get them caught up on district issues. That shift in attention has slowed the board’s ability to build the cohesiveness that makes for ideal discussion and decision-making. To fix it, the district proposes reducing the size of the board from seven members to five. In the interest of board cohesion and effectiveness, Ballot Question 3A deserves a “yes” vote.
The reduction plan would redraw district boundaries, making five larger districts out of the seven that exist today. Doing so, outgoing 9-R President Jeff Schell says, is intended to make each district more competitive come election time. As he rightly points out, the current districting often leads to an imbalanced slate of candidates and this year’s election is no exception: Districts B, C and F each have two-candidate races, District G has a three-way contest, while District E’s candidate is running unopposed and there is no one running for the District D seat. Reducing the board’s size would help address that lopsided participation.
More importantly, it would free up board members to focus on the important things they are elected to do: Govern the district. As Schell wrote in a Herald op-ed, “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.”
That is an unfortunate reality, as having a lively, engaged, seven-member board would serve the district well with a broader and deeper perspective found in a larger group.
But without being filled to capacity, the board and the district suffers. Reducing the size to build effectiveness is an appropriate response.
The transition would take place through the next two election cycles – 2015 and 2017 – dropping members as their terms expire. Under that rubric, no candidate elected in November will have his or her term abridged. Depending on who gets elected and where he or she lives, the shift could be complete in 2015, or take until 2017. The critical point is that those board members elected in November will serve their full two- or four-year term regardless of which district they represent or where they live within the current or realigned districts.
School-board service is no small commitment and all of those who volunteer for the job deserve recognition for their efforts. Their work and effectiveness will be helped by a structure change that will bring together a smaller group that is nonetheless representative of the district’s varied populations. Vote “yes” on Ballot Question 3A to reduce the 9-R Board of Education from seven members to five.