Originally Published: July 26, 2016 6 a.m.
In the midst of carefully chronicled and controversial national political campaigns, local people might miss learning about candidates running for seats in closer-to-home elections, and may not know many area school boards have multiple vacancies ahead.
The Yavapai County Education Service Agency enforces the petition filing criteria for candidates seeking any of 60 available seats in 25 public school districts, and on the Yavapai College board.
The deadline to become a qualified candidate – filing petitions required for each district – is Aug. 10.
Yavapai County Schools Superintendent Tim Carter, the veteran educator and member of the state Board of Education, said this election season started slow, but seems to be picking up speed with candidate interest in each district.
“I was a little bit concerned, but we have seen a significant increase in folks coming forward within the last couple weeks and pulling packets. I’m fairly comfortable that our numbers are going to be pretty solid,” Carter said.
He is not at all surprised that only a few have completed the process to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot. Historically, candidates tend to wait until the last minute to assure they have collected more than an adequate supply of signatures to qualify.
To assure a candidate meets the minimum petition criteria, Carter said his office recommends they collect 50 to 100 percent more signatures than required by law.
So far, only 16 candidates for the 60 seats have completed the process; five from the greater Prescott region – Bagdad Unified incumbent Christina Briones, Chino Valley Unified President Peter Atonna, Kirkland Elementary District incumbent Kenneth Denney, and Prescott Unified candidate Dwight Jaeger and Yavapai College candidate Walt Nagy.
In some districts, Carter said there are just enough candidates to fill vacancies; in a few there are not enough to fill them all. In those cases, Carter recommends to the Board of Supervisors there be no election and the candidates instead be appointed to those terms. If there is a vacancy, Carter will post notices in those communities in hopes of finding people to fill the slate either before or after the election.
Then there are communities where there are more candidates than there are seats. So far, there are eight districts in Yavapai County that have more people interested than seats. In this area, Prescott, Chino Valley, Mayer and Yavapai College all have seen more people pull packets than there are seats, but only three have so far qualified for the ballot.
As for the impact this national election will have on the local school races, Carter said it is hard to say.
He admits there is “a lot more interest in political issues right now.”
Yet in his more than 11 years working with local school districts in Yavapai County, Carter said interest in school elections often boils down to what controversy is brewing within the district. And he is clear that no one of the districts is ever the same.
“If everyone is happy with the district, and there are no big issues going on, and schools seem to be doing well and kids are doing fine, that’s when we see seats go unfilled,” Carter said. “What I would remind folks is that if a district is doing well, and people perceive it to be doing well, there is a reason for it, and that is good leadership, and the governing board is part of that leadership.”