As a member of a school board and very active member of the Arizona School Boards Association, I have heard a lot about “local control” over the past three years. Over time, I’ve had many thoughts about “local control” and my thinking continues to evolve. In theory, local control is a highly desirable way to govern. After all, who knows best what each locality needs than it’s residents. In actuality though, we know that local control is only as effective as are those exercising the control.
We have all seen instances of less than ideal governance. We’ve seen legislators working in their own best interests versus those of their constituents, we’ve seen school board members with axes to grind, and we’ve seen people get elected to all levels of governance who are not well equipped to do the job to which they were elected.
All of this has led me to question whether or not I am really a true believer in “local control” for school boards. Ensuring quality education for our children is an incredibly important function and should not be left to those ill equipped or less than committed to make it happen.
In the end though, I have to admit that at its core, local control is just another euphemism for democracy. I definitely believe in democracy, despite the fact it is messy.” Of course, this messiness is caused by a multitude of factors such as the diversity of the citizenry. As one of the world’s great statesmen, Winston Churchill is said to have mused, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
I don’t care what Churchill said. I am a huge believer is good old-fashion democracy. Messy or not, I love our form of governance and the ideals we were established upon. But, local control is exactly why the on-going assault on public education is really an assault on our democracy. After all, there is no elected position more local and closer to the people than that of school board member. At least in Arizona, Open Meeting Law requires a great deal of transparency on the part of school board members and they are accountable to their constituents. As Franklin D. Rooselvelt said: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” This is true whether the choices are being made in Congress, or at the local school board level.
The bottom line is that good governance comes from people who are prepared to govern well. No matter what level, elected officials must be aware of and prepared to carry out their responsibilities, they must understand the laws they are charged with upholding, and they must understand they have a duty to represent, but also lead. Only then, is local control efficient and effective.