‘Cookiegate’ jars Higley school district - East Valley Tribune: News

‘Cookiegate’ jars Higley school district

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Posted: Friday, May 21, 2004 9:51 am | Updated: 6:17 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

After the cookies crumbled in Higley, the high school principal faced investigation and two board members bumped into a recall.

As part of her role as a member of the Higley High Football Booster Club, Peggy Zornes coordinated the delivery of cookies to football players on game days and arranged for halftime snacks for referees.

"Nothing unusual," she said.

That was until fellow boosters came forward and said Higley High principal Burnie Hibbard was obstructing cookie deliveries and intimidating them. So when Zornes was elected to the Higley Unified School District governing board in 2002, she decided to get to the bottom of the allegations. She asked then-assistant superintendent David LaRose to investigate.

Cookiegate — the name given Zornes’ request — is one of the primary reasons parents in the district have successfully put a recall of Zornes and fellow board member Todd Nuttall on the Sept. 14 ballot.

In a pamphlet titled "Recall Nuttall & Zornes" supplied by the nonprofit "Take Back Higley Schools," recall supporters wrote, "Nuttall and Zornes wasted more than $9,500.00 in tax payer money on silly and frivolous investigations like Cookiegate."

Board member Ed Moore said he assumes Cookiegate was an expensive undertaking.

"It is my understanding $9,500 was spent on investigations including one into why Mrs. Zornes’ football players didn’t get their cookies."

Nuttall and Zornes say Moore and the recall parents have it all wrong.

"This is one thing that needs to be wiped off the face of the earth," Nuttall said about the belief by recall parents he and Zornes lightly spent taxpayer money.

Zornes said Cookiegate was nothing more than a phone call or two placed to Hibbard by LaRose. The $9,500 figure was for money spent on official school board investigations directed by then-Superintendent Larry Likes and are protected by executive session rules, she said.

Hibbard, the man at the heart of the Cookiegate investigation, said he never could figure out what the "big deal was about some cookies, especially when the players got them later in the evening."

He confirmed the notion that Cookiegate costing taxpayers thousands of dollars is more a matter of urban legend than truth. Still, he said, the recall movement is right on target and noted close to $10,000 has been spent investigating him.

"I’ve been inspected and detected and if there was anyway (Zornes and Nuttall) could have gotten rid of me, they would have," he said, adding both board members have abused powers in their attempts to check into fabrications about him.

"It’s been like a witch hunt," he said, "and you know the thing about witch hunts is there is no such thing as witches until you go on a hunt and then you find one."

The only investigation Hibbard would talk about was a charge of grade changing, for which he was cleared.

Nuttall stands by the investigations. The only problem he said he has with the principal is Higley High doesn’t perform at the level he feels it needs to.

"That school should be our flagship school," he said. "It’s improved, but when I look at schools like those in Gilbert — we don’t have nearly the programs they do. And, that’s Hibbard’s job."

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