board member

Most of us like to believe we’re decent people. We give a few bucks to charity, we volunteer, maybe even help a friend move. But be real: There’s being a decent human and then there’s going above and beyond.

Like by serving on your local school board.

If there’s a volunteer role existent in Arizona today that I cannot wrap my head around, it’s that one. And the past year of headlines — full of protests, threats and extreme surliness — have only deepened my confusion. Our state has about 240 school boards and 1,200 board members.

Each of them deserves a medal. Or our prayers.

Because anyone who does that job for $0 a year deserves something in return.

School board members begin their careers by running for election. You speak at public forums, knock on doors, stand in front of Safeway, anywhere you can meet a few voters, most of whom pay attention for 14 seconds before pushing past you like you're a human turnstile.

Then, say you win. That earns you the privilege of going to 25 or 30 weeknight meetings annually, many of which last for hours and involve a “call to the public.”

 If you’ve never been to a school board or municipal council meeting, lucky you. I’ve attended many, and trust me: Most members of the public who answer this call do so because no sane human being has ever listened to them for three minutes straight without dialing 911. It’s like open mic at an insane asylum, minus the lithium.

And that was before COVID, before anti-mask protests, and before machinations over critical race theory. Nowadays, your average school board meeting frequently resembles Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. Minus the gunfire — so far.

Down south near Tucson, the April 27 meeting of the Vail governing board required sheriff’s deputies before the meeting even started. About 150 anti-maskers — some armed — stormed the meeting, pushing past school district employees, screaming and berating board members and refusing to wear masks, per Pima County’s mandate.

“There was a handful of people — I don’t know exactly how many — who either don’t have kids in the school district, don’t live in the school district, don’t live in the county, who came with the express purpose of whipping up that group,” Superintendent John Carruth told the Arizona Education News Service.

Talk about needing more hobbies.

The Litchfield Elementary School District has degenerated into chaos over the passage of an “equity statement” last December. Since then, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has been involved and protests have become a regular feature of board meetings.

 Last week, Dr. Tara Armstead, the school board’s only Black member, resigned and scorched the 12,000-student district on her way out the door.

“I will not say thank you for the time that I served here,” said Armstead, “or express any gratitude or appreciation because, for the five months I have been here, I have been treated like I’m not an expert in the field and have no idea what I’m talking about.”

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has been equally protest-laden and chaotic. Last week, board President Jann-Michael Greenburg lost his temper over the distribution of a neo-Nazi comic book on some campuses.

Greenburg stage whispered “Jesus (expletive) Chist” into a hot microphone.

He later publicly apologized. “I’m very sorry about that,” Greenburg explained. “I have to admit it was done out of frustration in the moment.”

The wonder is, more school board members don’t drop f-bombs. Or outright quit. Because there’s surely no more thankless job in this state.