EDITORIAL: School district could use a little disagreement

Nevada’s education system is headed in a new direction, with sweeping school choice, school accountability and deconsolidation on the horizon. Given these dramatic changes in the way education will function, it makes sense that the Clark County School Board should change the way it functions, too.

Appropriately, some trustees are eager to provide closer oversight of the school district’s administration, and some trustees have provided dissenting voices on important issues. But having elected trustees act as public stewards is controversial because the School Board has long functioned under a “policy governance” model that encourages trustees to reach consensus, get along and stay out of the appointed superintendent’s way.

It’s impossible to argue that this structure has served Clark County students well. Although the school district has shown improvement in graduation rates, the administration has long put too much focus on preserving itself. Through policy governance, trustees become part of the bureaucracy and are largely useless to parents who can’t find their way through it.

Recently, trustees have had recent on everything from sex education to spending priorities. As reported last week by the Review-Journal’s Neal Morton, Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said these differing agendas have left him feeling like “a pinball in a machine sometimes.”

Elected overseers can’t become micromanagers, but they can and should inject themselves in situations that cry out for change and accountability, or when an important school district function is obviously broken. There is a wide range of opinion about public education across Southern Nevada, from support to skepticism to dissatisfaction to distrust. The idea that the School Board can’t reflect these different views in the course of establishing policy and building a budget is absurd. If all seven trustees are always on the same page, they’re not listening to their constituents.

They might soon abandon policy governance for a new approach that ends trustees’ days of being a rubber stamp for the superintendent. Good.

If dissent on the School Board is a problem for the district, it’s a sure sign that state lawmakers were right to start the process of breaking it up. Smaller, competing systems should be free to function under different policies.

K-12 education is too important to not have vigorous debate. Going along to get along needs to go away.

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