Amendments not palpable alternatives

Mary Southard

I oppose both Constitutional amendments on Tuesday’s ballot.
Amendment 1, designed to “transfer the state department of education to a cabinet department headed by a secretary of public education who shall serve in the executive cabinet and create an elected public education commission,” raises several significant questions.
First, how accessible would the governor or a cabinet-level secretary be to the general public when problems and concerns arise?
An elected advisory public education commission member would be of little help to constituents. He would have no designated authority to affect policy or change.
The current system does provide a policy-making representative on the state board of education to whom parents, teachers, and administrators may address issues and problems. Most of the members in my few years of experiences with the board have been responsive and willing to assist their constituents and work to remedy problems through discussion and policy. Furthermore, the state board of education provides a regularly scheduled opportunity each time it meets to field citizens’ concerns and opinions.
Results may not be as one had hoped and the process may take a little while, but things can get accomplished and they are easily accessible.
It has also been my experience that the board takes citizens’ concerns seriously. Unfortunately, no degree of accessibility to the “powers to be” in the newly proposed bureaucracy can be determined because its duties and responsibilities are to be decided at a later date.
Second, how much will local control of the school districts be compromised? While the authority of local boards has been weakened in some ways by federal regulations, the local school boards still can function in many ways as independent overseers of the quality and integrity of their community’s education.
Most communities staunchly defend their desire for local control and employ a school board association to, among other things, lobby to maintain it. Under the new proposal, it is impossible to know how local control will be affected because, again, the details of its function have not been decided.
What has been decided, however, is that passage of Amendment 1 will officially deliver more power and control to the governor’s office as this is part of the campaign rhetoric.
Third, who would execute the various duties currently distributed among the state board of education, the state superintendent and the state department of education? Many duties would become obsolete such as the state board appointing a state superintendent, but most would need to be readdressed and/or reassigned.
For example, who would designate courses of instruction, assess and evaluate school progress, determine the qualifications for and issue certificates to persons working in the schools, enforce home school requirements or approve/disapprove of programs conducted by private organizations in the public schools? These are among some of the more important concerns for me.
Yet, it is impossible to determine exactly how these issues will be affected with the exception that the ideology and values of the current administration, regardless of political party, would undoubtedly have influence.
Fourth, the governor has asked for the citizens to hold him accountable for education and give him the tools to do so. What does that mean? Will he be responsible for low test scores? Incompetent teachers? Time-robbing social programs? Unsafe school buildings? Will he personally come to Clovis and address a particular problem? Of course not.
We have more than 80 districts in the state. So how will accountability be addressed and measured? We simply are not told because all of this has to be hashed out in the Legislature.
Finally, if Amendment 1 passes and Amendment 2 does not, the new idea will need to be funded with something else … and that will be taxpayer money.
Amendment 2 is full of potential long-term consequences as several writers before me have described.
I do not believe the current system is a superior one and I could cite problems with it. But we have not been provided a palpable alternative. This may result in nothing more than an expensive rearrangement of bureaucracy that takes more power away from the people.
I suggest voters hold out on both amendments, get involved in educational issues, and help work for something more concrete.

Mary Southard of Clovis is the mother of two children, ages 10 and 3.