January 5, 2005
A shift in control of the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board may spell a new focus on similar themes this year.
Three new board members pulled a near coup when they ousted incumbents during the Nov. 2 election.
"It’s kind of a new day," said new board member Jennifer Petersen. "A fresh start for everything."
The new board meets as a body for the first time at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The change in the guard follows a divisive year in the district. At key times the board was sharply split but came together with unanimous votes on most routine issues.
Voices that spoke as audience members — within the three minutes allotted — are now voting members. Two are from north Scottsdale, an area that late last year began to advocate for the sixth high school, saying students were blatantly ignored by the district as it focused on a $217 million bond issue to rebuild aging schools in south Scottsdale.
One of the newcomers, Molly Holzer, is a former naysayer who disagreed with decisions made by the outgoing board, everything from spending more each year on legal fees to voting to investigate a former principal.
Holzer was removed from the Scottsdale Parent Council, an organization in which incoming board member Eric Meyer was actively involved as he led a growing legislative parent lobby.
The new board pledges to continue in a direction the old board started when it hired superintendent John Baracy, who began in July — to increase communication with the public, improve morale of employees — and hire a new attorney to decrease legal fees.
The incoming board will face many issues that have divided the district in the past: Whether to change school boundaries; whether to ask voters to approve a tax to pay for full-day kindergarten; and another year of balancing a shaky budget as health care and retirement costs increase.
The board will also have to decide whether to ask voters to provide funding to enhance the school district’s aging technology.
Incumbent board member Christine Schild wants to create a special segment of meetings to allow the board to respond to public questions.
And Petersen hopes to return the district’s middle school format, allowing teachers to again work in groups with the same students.
But the new board may have more time to deal with these divisive issues — all are stay-at-home parents.
Less than a year ago, Schild filed a federal lawsuit against the board, arguing she’d been stripped of her elected voice.
But this January that complaint, dismissed in court, will also be dropped when Schild’s voice becomes stronger on the board as newly elected "allies" take their seats.
"For one thing, we’re all committed to working together," Schild said. "What happened to me is never going to happen again. We’re going to change our governance policies."
Incumbent Karen Beckvar said the changes won’t be as dramatic as the newcomers may expect as the board continues to move in a direction established by the hiring of Baracy.
"We do what’s in the best interest of education our children and controlling our expenses," she said, "so we can offer the quality programs we feel we can offer."
But Holzer said she looked forward to her first board meeting Tuesday and her first votes after spending years on the other side of the podium.
"It’s going to be fun," she said.