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STEVE SEBELIUS: No substitute for experience

It’s been a stiff competition, but the Clark County School District Board of Trustees has regained the trophy for Worst Public Body in Nevada.

And that’s saying something in a state where Las Vegas councilwomen engage in fisticuffs at City Hall, where a voting majority of the Clark County Commission was once in prison simultaneously and where suburban tax dollars find their way to multimillion-dollar sports enterprises with disturbing regularity.

Also, the Board of Regents.

But the fine folks in charge of inculcating the values of democracy in the next generation seem to have decided to emphasize the petty personal rivalries part of history over the cooperate for the greater good part.

Look no further than the fired/maybe not fired controversy involving Superintendent Jesus Jara. The trustees can’t seem to agree on whether to keep him, fire him or how to replace him if he is fired.

In the wake of the board’s shenanigans, old debates have arisen. Should we break up the school district? Should the board change its style of governance? Should cities — notwithstanding the fact that the word “education” does not appear in city charters — be allowed to start their own schools? Or should we appoint trustees instead of elect them?

That last one is controversial, leading some to lament the loss of direct democracy. Voters should retain the absolute right to elect trustees as they see fit! (And voters have done a hell of a job thus far. Just ask former Trustee Kevin Child, who was banned from visiting schools because of alleged inappropriate comments.)

But the emphasis on appointing versus electing is really a debate over how best to get qualified people in those jobs. And that’s a question worth addressing.

State law provides that trustees must be qualified electors and live in their districts. That’s it. File a declaration of candidacy, get a few thousand people to vote for you, and you’re in.

We should probably think about changing that.

The Legislature should amend the law, at least for Clark and Washoe counties, to provide for additional qualifications to become a school trustee. Maybe specify that at least one member of the board have experience in running $2 billion-plus organizations. Maybe another could have a background in human resources or law. At least one should certainly have had previous experience as a classroom teacher.

It makes sense: You can’t be a doctor in this state without having graduated medical school. You’ve got to go to law school and pass the bar to be a lawyer. A person has to go through the police academy and field training before he or she can drive a black-and-white for Metro. You even need a college degree and some journalism experience to work for the Review-Journal, although you may not be able to tell that from reading this column. And yes, you can’t teach in a Clark County school without the proper education, certification and licensure.

But to be a trustee? You just have to live in a certain area and be smart enough to register to vote and find the correct county office to file your declaration of candidacy.

And trust me, it shows.

Some might suggest this proposal would tilt the board in favor of “elites,” which for reasons passing understanding is now a bad thing. More people lean toward the views of former U.S. Sen. Roman Hruska, R-Neb., who once said mediocre people deserve representation, too. But that’s what Congress is for! School trustees have a much more important job, with an outsize impact on the future.

A good model for our schools to follow might be the Gaming Control Board, one of two agencies that regulate the state’s casino industry. Members are required to have experience in business administration, investigation and accounting, respectively. That system seems to work pretty well.

Then again, the state is serious when it comes to regulating casinos. There’s virtually no evidence to suggest the state shares the same earnestness when it comes to schools.

Also, $9,000 per year (the current Clark Country trustee pay) isn’t exactly going to lure people to the post. If the district had the cash to hand out raises in Jara’s fit of post-firing pique, it has the cash to pay trustees like a corporation’s board of directors.

Right now, the district is a mess. Adding some qualifications to the law and boosting trustee pay is a good place to start finding a fix.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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