NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
I was recently contacted by several constituents expressing great concern over the increasing lack of civility in our country, state, and an alarming increase within Yavapai County. In particular, these citizens were concerned with the disruption and disrespect being shown to school district Governing Board Members. It was suggested that I was the appropriate person to address it. I concur.
Civility is defined “as courtesy or politeness, as exhibited by behaviors that produce feelings of respect, dignity, and trust. It is not disruption of a meeting, yelling or talking out of order, cursing, threatening, intimidation, or harassment”.
It may help to better understand Article 11 of the Arizona Constitution, in which our founders created four levels of educational authority:
- State Board of Education (appointed by the Governor and tasked with statewide policy development),
- State Superintendent of Public Instruction (elected in a partisan race, the leader of the Arizona Department of Education, the closest thing we have to a statewide regulatory agency),
- County School Superintendents (elected in a partisan race, provides direct services such as district finance, elections, with the authority to temporarily fill Board vacancies),
- School District Governing Boards (elected in nonpartisan races, to develop policies and school budgets on a local level as authorized by state law).
Each are separate and equal, providing checks / balances, with specific separation of powers established by law. Each have their own “powers and duties”, with authority limited to those items. Each take an oath that requires we “support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution and laws of the State of Arizona against all enemies foreign and domestic”. State Board and local Governing Board Members are unpaid volunteers, spending countless hours in carrying out their duties.
Thus, Governing Board Members are elected officials and constitutional officers. We can disagree with them, but they deserve our respect.
Individual Governing Board members do not make decisions, they vote on agenda items as part of a Board. The Board makes decisions, since a majority is required for passage.
All meetings of the Board are controlled under the Open Meeting Law. Board agendas must be posted at least 24 hours in advance. The Board may allow “public participation” and determine the length of time for the whole public participation segment and for individual speakers. This is a best practice and most political subdivisions allow this, some do not. Normally speakers may only speak about items on the agenda. The citizen many times will offer alternative suggestions about how the issue can be handled. Under Arizona law, the Board may not engage the speaker, it can only listen, and may ask the school district Superintendent to communicate with the speaker or to place the issue on a future agenda for discussion. A public meeting is a “meeting of the Board”. It is a time and place for the Board to conduct the business of the district that the public may attend, observe and record by audio or video (as long as it does not disrupt the proceedings). It is NOT a time for any member of the public to disrupt or threaten members of the Board. In fact, there are various laws that can be put into action to address and stop this type of behavior. The consequences are even worse, if a person or group, attends the meeting with “intent” to disrupt the meeting. That intent is simply wrong. Should a school district actually need to have a person(s) arrested (Disrupting an Educational Institution) and removed from a meeting or get a court order to restrain someone from the school premises?
The public can appropriately communicate with the Board using various methods. A citizen may be able to:
- email individual members of the Board,
- send written materials to the district, addressed to the Board via US mail or hand delivered,
- call individual members of the Board if they have their phone numbers published,
- meet face to face with individual members of the Board if Board members agree to do so
Self-government is only sustained when people participate in an appropriate manner. Election packets are available March 1, 2022, for the next election cycle. Run for election or encourage others who will. Sign petitions, put up signs, donate to a campaign, or make phone calls of support.
Please, if anyone is so upset they cannot act appropriately in a public meeting, call me, 928.925-6560 (cell). I will be happy to speak with you about options you might have.
Yavapai County School Superintendent
Former President, Arizona State Board of Education