Gila County Maps Offer Model For Redistricting

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Gila County’s model redistricting plan gained prompt approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.

So it seems only right to compliment the Gila County Board of Supervisors and its redistricting process on a job well done — and to wish the state’s process had gone half so smoothly.

Mind you, we had our qualms at the start of Gila County’s politically charged process of drawing new district lines for both the board of supervisor districts and the community college seats.

We worried about the ability of the board of supervisors to redraw their own seats in a way that recognized the shift of the county’s population to the north since the 2000 census. Turns out, the supervisors did a fair and dispassionate job — with the help of a dedicated group of community volunteers.

The supervisors had every incentive to fudge the lines to make their own lives easier — especially once the hired consultants provided a legal rationale for trying to protect the status quo.

Early discussions seemed to favor just a minor tweaking of district lines so as to not run the risk of running afoul of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the rights of voters from minority groups. The consultants repeatedly expressed trepidation about any change in minority percentages — which initially looked like an excuse to leave in place district lines. That would have maintained south county’s lock on both the Gila Community College board and the board of supervisors — even though a majority of the voters now live in north county.

Fortunately, the Tonto Apache Tribal Council’s support for district lines that would balance the interests of north and south and combine the Tonto Apache Reservation with the San Carlos Reservation in a single swing district provided a viable alternative to just tinkering with the status quo.

We admit that we half expected Supervisors Shirley Dawson and Mike Pastor to balk at the compromises, since the shifts produced significant changes in their districts. Instead, they did the right thing and approved the new maps.

The Department of Justice’s swift approval of the resulting districts validated the process, winning approval of the Gila County Board of Supervisors’ decision even as the state maps descended into a flurry of charges, counter-charges and court filings.

So we extend our congratulations to the Gila County Board of Supervisors and to the members of the advisory redistricting commission who offered a heartening example of democracy in action.

Keep the good teachers

Here’s the sad truth: Lots of education reforms are focusing on the wrong problem. Our biggest problem isn’t getting rid of bad teachers — it’s keeping the good teachers.

Fortunately, groups like Payson’s Parent Teacher Student Organization are doing their best to tackle this critical problem — as evidenced by the group’s willingness to pay for two great science teachers and their spouses to attend Science Teacher Night at the Arizona Science Center in the Valley.

The local teachers will get to mingle with 200 other educators from throughout the state and hear a speech on how to get kids excited about science.

Recent federal reforms have put a lot of stress on compelling school districts to set up elaborate teacher evaluation systems to weed out teachers doing a bad job. No doubt — teachers who can’t manage their classes or have lost heart represent a real drag on the system.

But here’s a much more alarming statistic: An estimated 46 percent of new teachers quit within five years. Estimates put the cost of this turnover at $7.3 billion annually, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

Another study demonstrated that the national shortage of science and math teachers has more to do with that dismaying turnover than it does with our failure to train enough science teachers. The Consortium for Policy Research in Education study concluded that schools could keep up with the demand for new science teachers were it not for the high turnover rate among existing math and science teachers. The majority of these highly qualified, crucial teachers cite “job dissatisfaction” as their reason for leaving.

The study concluded that the turnover rate is highest in poor urban schools and second highest in poor rural schools. Please note: 70 percent of the students in the Payson School District qualify for free and reduced school lunches based on family income.

So we applaud the efforts of the Parent Teacher Student Organization to provide the kind of support and appreciation that will make our teachers feel good about their jobs — so they can prepare our children to be good at their jobs.

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