McClellan: If only Gilbert's school board could match its schools - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

McClellan: If only Gilbert's school board could match its schools

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:04 pm | Updated: 12:48 pm, Wed Mar 26, 2014.

The folks in Gilbert deserve a school board as good as the schools.

Unfortunately, right now, that’s not the case.

The district has outstanding schools, great teachers, supportive parents, good students. The district earned an “A” rating from the state, with 25 of its schools earning an “A” and the remaining 15 scoring a “B”. Each year graduates earn millions of dollars in scholarships.

That’s not by accident. The district has done a good job in spending taxpayer money, with the lowest administrative costs of any school district in the East Valley.

Only 7.6 percent of funding goes to the administration, while 61 percent goes into the classroom. No other East Valley district can match these numbers. And teachers and administrators have done all this during a time when the district’s budget has decreased dramatically, first by the legislature’s draconian cuts over the past five years, and second by the failed override.

An override opposed by one of the board members, Julie Smith, has led to the district’s bond rating to be lowered. Which means? Bonds will cost taxpayers more in the future.

So teachers and administrators have had to do more with less, and they’ve succeeded to a remarkable degree, even as they’ve seen their salaries frozen and their health costs increased.

Then there’s the school board, a board dominated by three who all too often have brought turmoil to the district: Staci Burk, Mrs. Smith, and Daryl Colvin.

You’ve read about the many controversies: the Apple vote fiasco, the superintendent search, the resignation of the interim superintendent who “couldn’t give the board the assistance they need.”

His hasn’t been the only resignation. In fact, the entire superintendency — the superintendent and all four assistant superintendents — have either retired or resigned in the past year. Two of them will now work for Mesa Public Schools.

Half of the high school principals have resigned, only to go to other districts.

Directors of different departments have skedaddled as well. Teachers are resigning in large numbers.

Even the board’s attorney recently resigned, because of “actions and events.”

Nothing like this has ever happened in Arizona history.

And now, there are multiple police investigations as a result of what Ms. Burk and Mr. Colvin believe is evidence of possible crimes. At least some of that evidence has yet to be shared with other board members.

In the midst of this has been an effort by Ms. Burk to potentially use millions of Gilbert Schools dollars to pay for students’ tuition to private schools. Fortunately, her legislation to enable that failed miserably, not even getting a committee hearing in the House.

Nevertheless, she, Colvin, and Smith are committed to what they call “choice.” Others might call it “privatizing education.” Giving private schools public school money with no accountability for how that taxpayer money is spent.

At this week’s school board meeting, the three displayed their commitment, or remained silent.

I asked Ms. Burk, Mrs. Smith and Mr. Colvin this question: As fiscal conservatives and stewards of our tax money, how can you support a program that provides district funds to private schools with no oversight on how those schools spend our taxpayer money?

As he has before when asked this, Mr. Colvin remained silent. Ms. Burk said that she had been told this was not the time to respond but will do so at a later meeting. More or less what she said the last time she was asked this question.

And Mrs. Smith explained that taxes can be seen as a form of theft, and that parents should have the choice to use tax money as they see fit.

One problem with that thinking: If parents get district funds for private schools, they are not only getting their tax money but yours and mine as well. Under Mrs. Smith’s rationale, these parents get to choose how they spend our tax money. We, however, do not.

The good news for Gilbert is that kids are still learning and teachers are still teaching. Teachers show up every morning dedicated to doing their best; administrators work to lead their schools; staff continues to support the faculty; parents send their kids off to school ready to learn. But that’s despite the Board’s actions and clearly not because of them. Those teachers, students and parents deserve a board as good as the schools.

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