The Kyrene School District’s first candidate forum Monday was tense, filled with boisterous applause and mumbling disapproval.
Kyrene board president Rae Waters and her opponent, Tempe lawyer Patrick McGill, answered questions from the audience at the hourlong forum — one of two before a March 14 recall election. Voters will decide whether to keep Waters or elect McGill. Regardless of who wins the recall election, the term is up in November and another election will be held.
One of the most sensitive and volatile issues focused on a 3-2 governing board decision made almost a year ago that changed the middle school schedule from 45- to 68-minute class periods in an effort to boost academic achievement — at the expense of fine arts programs such as band and Spanish. The fine arts classes shifted from being offered every day to every other day. Waters cast the deciding vote.
Kyrene parents Tom and Martha Walker said the decision to change the schedule left parents out of the equation.
“We went to two (forums before the decision) and they were packed with parents who said they didn’t want this,” Martha Walker said.
Tom Walker says he supports McGill because he’s “definitely going to listen to parents.”
McGill, also a parent of two children in the district, said lack of communication between parents, teachers and school board members has created not only a “culture of fear” among teachers to speak up, but also has excluded views of community members.
“Are we reaching out to the community? Selectively, it seems,” McGill said.
But Waters said she has consistently communicated with parents and listened to the opinions voiced at the meetings prior to the decision. She said her decision “has to be what’s good for the students. You can’t please everyone,” she added.
Teachers such as Ellen Shamah say there is anything but a “culture of fear” in the Kyrene district among teachers.
“I don’t see it. We have very outspoken teachers,” Shamah said. “The district is great — we’re only reprimanded if we use the school e-mail for political reasons or violate school policy.”
Of the average 10 recall elections in the state each year, most opponents claim victory because voters simply think the current governing board
member “must have done something really bad,” said Chris Thomas, the Arizona School Board Association’s director of legal services.
The recall election is expected to cost between $44,000 to $70,000, depending on the number of mail-in ballots requested, according to district officials.
• The final candidate forum will be 7 p.m. Thursday at Kyrene Middle School, 1054 E. Carver Road, Tempe. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is March 3. Call the Maricopa County Elections Department at (602) 506-1511 to request one.