Currently, each member of the Crook County School Board is elected to serve on one of five specific zones in the community.
>School board is advocating the elimination of zoned representation
Citing a variety of reasons, the current school board wants to abolish the zone system and broached the topic at their latest meeting on Monday evening.
The zones are currently comprised of four geographically-specific areas within Crook County. To serve in one of those four zones, the school board member must live in the corresponding region. A fifth at-large zone stands alone as an exception and only requires that the serving board member live somewhere in Crook County.
School board members want to abolish the system primarily to enable a better candidate pool when filling board vacancies.
“We need to make sure that we always find the best applicant each time,” said vice-chair Doug Smith.
He contends that the current system sometimes prevents the best candidates from running, because they do not live in the correct zone to run for the vacant position.
“In a perfect world, I would love to see a great applicant come from each zone,” Smith said. “That is not necessarily what we were seeing happening.”
He referenced a situation recently where a local resident was barred from running for a board vacancy because they “lived on the wrong side of Main Street.”
“One hundred fifty feet and he would have been in the right zone,” Smith said.
Board member Scott Cooper pointed out that times have changed since the creation of the zone system, making it no longer necessary.
“I think that it made a lot of sense in 1921, when we first adopted this structure, and you couldn’t necessarily drive to the school board meetings,” he said. “This day and age, if you want your voice heard, you get in your car and you drive to the school board meeting.”
Cooper went on to point out that all Crook County residents vote on all school board seats, regardless of where the voters happen to live. Consequently, the school board candidates should not be limited by where in Crook County they reside.
Adding to that thought, board chair Patti Norris said that board members, regardless of address, should represent every student in the district and be responsible for the success of students outside of their zone as well.
“I think the zone concept had value at a time when it was harder to communicate,” she added.
While all of the board members agreed that they should abolish the zone system, one citizen who attended the meeting voiced a different point of view.
“I am not so sure that I feel good about taking the zones away,” said Prineville resident Darlene Harpster. “They were put there for a reason.”
She feels that if somebody who lives in a certain zone has a school-related concern related to their area, they should be allowed to apply for candidacy and be considered.
Harpster went on to say that a lack of candidates in a particular zone does not mean the board will fail to fill the position with a quality member.
“It does have an out that if no one from that zone applies to be a candidate, you can select a candidate from another zone,” she said.
The school board did not take any action on Monday, and plans to once again take public comment at their next meeting in early December. After hearing from residents, they will conduct a second reading of the proposal and make a determination at that time.