Is this a tipping point for one of Arizona’s top-performing school districts? Has Gilbert Public Schools, justifiably proud of its many achievements and recognized for its students’ learning, come to a time when all of its successes might be negated by the behavior of just a few people?
Seems that way.
The antics of the school board majority have been reported and commented on throughout the past year and a half, a time that coincides with the havoc they’ve wreaked on a still-outstanding but teetering on the brink district. So there’s no need to review the many blunders of Staci Burk, Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin.
But this past week might mark a turning point for the district. In a typically long, ideologically-driven meeting, the three displayed the behavior we’ve come to expect.
Two issues that came up during the three hour meeting illustrate the danger the district is in. First came with the vote to replace the assistant superintendents who’ve left, necessary because the entire superintendency has resigned or retired in the last year — unprecedented in Arizona history.
The incoming superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, recommended several people to fill those positions, and the board members had plenty of time to vet those recommendations.
But in a slap to Kishimoto’s face, Burk, Smith and Colvin rejected two of her picks and gave no reasoning for their votes. So Gilbert residents had no idea why the three thought the selections were unacceptable.
And the two men who were recommended, both named at the meeting, had their reputations smeared by the vote without explanation. That means that the board majority of Colvin, Smith and Burk issued a no-confidence vote to Kishimoto before she even takes the reigns.
It sent a message to anyone thinking about applying for those still-vacant positions: You better toe our line, or we’ll vote against you.
The second embarrassment came during a discussion of yet another possible override election this November. The district has had to cut almost $14 million from its budget over the last two years, and will face yet another $6 million cut next year. That comes on top of the $20 million the state cut five years ago.
Now, you can make a reasonable argument against a third override vote in three years. But Smith and Colvin decided not to. Instead, as usual, Smith chose to once again claim the district misspends money, of course providing little proof of that. Smith campaigned claiming unspent millions lurk somewhere in the GPS budget, but in almost two years she’s yet to find that pot of money.
We learned, too, that Smith sends some of her children to charter schools, schools that have the barest of fiscal accountability. So one might wonder why Mrs. Smith is so adamant about district school accountability yet unconcerned about how her kids’ charter school spends its taxpayer money.
Colvin, as is his wont, made the issue personal, at one point in his long explanation saying that “a cadre of sore losers who have put tremendous effort in stirring up negativity and have had plenty of help in it have only yourselves to thank for it [his vote against the override].”
Is he serious? Colvin has spent all his time in office alienating all but his small group of like-minded supporters. His comments and his votes have angered community members, elected officials, parents, teachers, even students. Yet he has the audacity to claim that others have created an atmosphere of negativity.
Now the board didn’t actually vote on the override effort, but Smith and Colvin announced they are against it, and Burk said she was “99 percent” opposed to another election.
So here’s where the high achieving but for how long district stands: More than 200 teachers gone, 90 teacher positions cut, larger class sizes, unfilled administrative positions and an even more disastrous budget problem facing it next year. Oh, and with a board majority that prefers to waste time with ideological speeches from the dais.
Voters should prefer something more. They get a chance to show that preference in November.
- Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.