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Now is the time for the school board to abolish its zone system
November 26, 2012
For more than 90 years, the Crook County School Board has elected its members to represent particular geographic zones.
At the time, the zone system, like other representative government, was to give people in certain areas a board member that would speak on their behalf. Concerns in Powell Butte for instance might differ from those in Paulina. Consequently, to run for a certain zone, a candidate must reside in that zone.
Now, the school board is planning to abolish the system in favor of five at-large positions. The primary reason behind the proposed change is to improve the candidate pool when vacancies on the board occur. Such vacancies have occurred frequently during the past few years, and board members feel that the address requirement has prevented qualified candidates from running. As board vice-chair put it recently, one person could not run because they lived on the wrong side of Main Street.
This is not the first time that the school board has considered a revision to its zone structure. In 2005, the idea came up, and at that time, we said that the zones should remain. To get rid of them would potentially leave one sect of Crook County without representation.
That being said, we feel that the school board has raised some important points, and have made a good case that perhaps the zone system should be abolished.
First, all voters elect school board members, regardless of which zone is vacant. Therefore, the people living in the zone lack absolute control over who represents them, because voters from other zones can affect the outcome. As a result, the people living in that zone may not get the representation they want.
Secondly, times have changed and people don’t necessarily need to rely on a particular board member to speak on their behalf. As board member Scott Cooper pointed out, in the 1920s, people who lived in the outlying communities may have struggled to attend a meeting and voice their concern. By contrast, tracking down their zone representative would not present the same challenge.
Now, for most people, attending a board meeting does not require as much effort, and people can show up and address the board in person. Even if they can’t, communication has drastically improved, making it relatively easy to contact board members.
We agree that the time has come to abolish the zone system. Since all voters determine the official for a particular zone, it eliminates any advantage that the system is meant to provide a particular area. As it now exists, all the zone system does is potentially bar qualified candidates from running, and weakens the board in the process.
Having said that, if the board abolishes the zone system, we feel citizens in outlying communities should make a more concerted effort than ever before to keep up on school board decisions. Without region-specific representation, going to meetings or maintaining regular contact with board members is crucial.