AMPHI POLITICAL RANCOR CHANGING - The Explorer: Import

AMPHI POLITICAL RANCOR CHANGING

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Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

District voters Nov. 5 will choose two new members for the board from a field of three candidates. Incumbents Mary Schuh and board president Ken Smith chose not to run for re-election.

The three candidates, Jeff Grant, Patty Clymer and Doug Reed, have all refrained from negative campaigning and have all stayed away from much of what divided the district through the late 1990s and led to a bitter recall election in 2000.

There are still some rumblings of the past from the candidates' supporters, as some have tried to tie Grant to the recalled board members just as they did in the 2000 general election (the recall was held five months before the general election) and some have tried to paint Clymer and Reed as followers of a controversial board member.

But those issues have not dominated the campaign, as they did in 2000. So far, the three candidates have focused on why they would be a good board member rather than why their opponents would not.

Each candidate has a background and experience that would seem to benefit the school district, which has been in a financial bind for more than four years that has caused friction between the board and the teachers' union.

Clymer is a former teacher in the Marana Unified School District and knows full well all the problems today's teachers face trying to educate students in a fiscally conservative climate.

Grant is the human resources director for the town of Oro Valley and has extensive training in employee negotiations.

Reed was an executive for the horse racing industry in New Mexico and has extensive experience in business management and dealing with large budgets.

Those differences in experience are really the only signficant differences between the candidates, as all have similar stands on most of the major issues dealing with public education in Arizona.

Last week, the Northwest EXPLORER interviewed all three candidates, asking each the same set of questions. What follows is a synopsis of their answers.

CLYMER A FORMER TEACHER

NE: Why are you running for the school board?

PC: I thought that my background was good for the board, the fact that I taught in public schools, I was a parent and I was a volunteer. I think the bottom line is that I really care about public schools and care about kids.

NE: What are your expectations of what it will be like to serve as a board member?

I think it's going to be very difficult. I think it's going to be frustrating because we are at an all time low as far as funding support for public education. I think public support is actually increasing because people are coming to realize what a difficult job public schools are facing and I think the public is starting to realize we have been ill served by our state representatives in the way they have funded public education. I expect it to be hard because we expect as much if not more from teachers every year and yet we're not able to compensate them adequately for what they're doing and we're not able to supply the classrooms or libraries. On the positive side, I hope to be a positive force for the district. I tend to be a positive person. I'm easy to work with. Because I've been a teacher I understand the things they have to go through in the classroom and the frustrations they face and so I hope to be a strong moral support for the teachers.

NE: Why will you be a good board member?

PC: I have teaching experience. I think that's really valuable. I have volunteered not only at my daughter's school but at Prince Elementary at the kindergarten. I'm a good listener. I'm open minded.

NE: Where did you stand on the modified calendar versus traditional calendar debate?

PC: I agreed with what the board did because we are desperate for money. It was a way to conserve money without harming students.

NE: What is your opinion of Arizona LEARNS?

PC: I think it's a political response to an educational and social problem that is very complex. I think it is a bureaucratic method of trying to get hold of a problem. Kids who attend the failing schools are by and large from disadvantaged neighborhoods and so by labeling them, and perhaps using district funds to bus them to another school that is not labeled failing, does not really change that child's situation -- they'll still come from the same background they did. So I don't see how that's going to effectively change that child's educational life.

I think the problem that nobody wants to face is this, these kids are perfectly capable of learning; they can learn as well as anyone else can. But it's going to take extra time. If (a child) comes in and (doesn't) have the background experience, the background knowledge, the knowledge that a typical child coming into that grade level, why should we expect this child to make several years' progress in one year? We have to give these kids more time. And I think part of that means we have to have these kids in school during the summer. For the special population that needs more schooling, yes, I'm talking about year-round school. But it doesn't have to be five days a week year-round school. In the summer it could be three days a week. (NE: Wouldn't that require more funding?) Yes it would.

NE: What is your view of the AIMS test and its ties to Arizona LEARNS?

PC: On the positive side, it forces all schools in the state to look closely at their curriculum and to beef it up. On the negative side, I don't think it's appropriate to decide if a child is going to graduate from high school based on one test. (NE: How do you avoid passing the test becoming paramount to the student, the district and the board?) I think that's already happened. I think that the feeling of the teachers in the district is that 'I must get my class to pass this test and get the student to do the very best on this test as I can at all costs.' I think it already has affected the curriculum. To be honest, I don't know as a board member how to turn that around.

NE: What is your view of the board's relationship with the district's teachers? (Is it fair for teachers to look to the school board for solutions to all their problems?)

PC: I think it's natural for the teacher to do that. I think as a teacher I did that, so I understand why they do that and I know they get frustrated with the board with the current atmosphere with our state and the state legislature where they do not support public education. The bottom line is, the board cannot solve these problems unless the public stands up behind them and demands our state better fund education.

NE: Would you support a budget override election to provide more money to the district?

PC: I have no objection to using an override as an answer to budgetary problems. I think what must be done carefully is to choose what this override will be used for to make sure we get public support for it. My concern is whether the teachers are thinking of using the override to increase their salary. That's the question. What do we do when the override expires? I don't know all the ins and outs of what an override can and can't be used for but I'm sure there's some variance so that it can be used for classroom supplies and textbooks and library books which would be definitely one area we should look into.

NE: How will you address the division in the district between the more working-class, urban south and more affluent, suburban north?

PC: I'd be very interested in talking to community groups about our school district and the disparities that exist. I just don't think most people are even aware of this. I don't think a lot of people even know what our PTOs in the northern part of the district are paying for. Make them aware because there are a lot of organizations in town that are very willing to help and our looking for projects.(NE: Why do you volunteer at Prince Elementary?) It's part of a program I started at my church. We have adopted Prince Elementary. We chose Prince because I know a little bit about it. I know they have a tough time getting volunteers and having enough money for supplies so we've adopted Prince. We collect school supplies for them every fall. We encourage our members to send their tax credit donations to Prince. We collect clothing for the Amphi clothing bank. We do special projects, we've done some landscaping, we've helped in the library.

NE: What's good about the district?

PC: I really think overall this district has a lot of high quality teachers who really care a lot about the kids and who work really hard. (Superintendent) Vicki Balentine. I think we're very fortunate to have her.

NE: What could be better about the district?

PC: I think communication is always a problem. I have had some teachers approach me with things they thought were going to happen and I'd ask Vicki Balentine, and she'd say no. I think it's an important thing for the board to work on. I'd be happy to go talk to teachers.

NE: Is there a benefit to your having been a public school teacher?

PC: The response I'm getting from teachers is I believe they have that feeling about me, that at least I've been in the trenches and I know what it's like to be a classroom teacher. But I'm trying not to be naive. I know once you become a board member you are looked upon differently. So I know at times it will not be smooth sailing and I'm sure there will be times I will disappoint them.

GRANT'S BACKGROUND COULD AID LABOR TALKS

NE: Why are you running for the school board?

JG: My background I think is ideally suited to the board. My human resources background I think will help with some of the issues the board is facing now with pay and benefits. I've also got an extensive background in budgeting; I served on the Amphi budget advisory committee. My involvement as a parent over the years I think will also be helpful. I served on the site-based council (Copper Creek). I think all that rolled together makes me an ideal candidate. (NE: Why did you run in 2000?) Same as my desire now. My experience and my HR credentials and my background are well suited to service on the board. And I have a background in community service too, I mean I've been involved on boards of directors of a couple YMCAs and variety of other organizations including youth sports, I've been active in the Little League and soccer. (NE: What lessons did you learn in 2000 and how are they affecting your campaign now?) I ran a very, very clean election in 2000, I didn't negatively campaign against my opponents and I'm not doing that now. That was the biggest lesson I learned, to just keep it positive, to emphasize my background and my credentials and the positive things I can do for the board.

NE: What are your expectations of what it will be like to serve as a board member?

JG: It's not going to be an easy four years for any of the board members because of some of the funding issues and the financial issues that are going to affect the district, they're going to affect all school districts. I think it's going to require the board to pull together and try and function as a team. They need to remember their objective is to continue to provide the best educational opportunity for the kids and that really should be their sole objective.

NE: Why will you be a good board member?

JG: I think I'm a rational, objective decision maker. My whole career and everything I've done has been based on rational thinking. And I think I am objective, I have no personal agendas, no hidden agendas. I'm not running for the board to push any personal issues. I think I have a pretty good viewpoint of a couple of the areas where my strengths could help the district. Again, my HR background. Dealing with the pay and benefit issues which is going to be critical. Our ability to recruit and retain teachers in the face of some of the financial difficulties is going to be challenging.

NE: Where did you stand on the modified calendar versus traditional calendar debate?

JG: My position is that I was opposed to doing away with the modified calendar at this stage because I didn't see any real financial data on what it was going to save the district. My position is that it was going to disrupt some of the families by changing calendars. I would have preferred to have seen that if (the district) had financial figures on how much it was going to save the district that they publish it. If in fact there was substantial savings to be made it probably would have made the decision easier for some of the parents, especially those on the modified calendar. It would have helped them understand the decision.

NE: What is your opinion of Arizona LEARNS?

JG: There's a movement on the national level and on the state level to bring about more accountability in education. And this is their attempt. I have a real fear of labeling schools be-cause there are all sorts of other issues that go into student performance that are going to be above and beyond the ability of administrators and teachers to fix in the short term. But I have a concern for labeling but … it's the law of the land and you have to follow it at this stage. One of the things that I advocated is to develop some actual working relationships with state legislators. I can work with our legislators. Let's face it, the legislature is responsible for our funding.

NE: What is your view of the AIMS test and its ties to Arizona LEARNS?

JG: I don't have a problem, first of all, with the concept of the AIMS test, but I do have a problem with the AIMS test that they've currently delivered. If we're going to hinge, and that's a big if, on a standardized test, then I would rather see us use a standardized test and AIMS is not a standardized test. I think the Stanford 9 test which has been used for years and years would be a better reflection against national norms of how our students and our district are performing.

The theory behind AIMS is that it is tied very, very tightly to state mandated curriculum, that it will be a further inducement to districts to teach the curriculum as opposed to trying to teach to the test. I don't know how tightly it is tied to the curriculum.

NE: What is your view of the board's relationship with the district's teachers?

JG: Again, we need to try to develop positive relationships with legislators (to get more funding). More than that, I think enhancing our communication within the district among all stakeholders. I think all too frequently Amphi has not done that very well. (The stakeholders are) teachers, students, and administrators, but also our taxpayers as a whole, which includes those that are parents and those that are nonparents. I'm advocating for an open forum especially for employees to go and speak with the board. I'd like to see an annual or semiannual open forum where board members go and realize that they may be there for a few hours and give employees an opportunity to speak without any fear of retribution. I also liked it when the board was rotating its board meetings and going to various schools. I think it would be great to take the show on the road. I think it would stimulate far more participation by parents and stakeholders at the various schools. I'd also like to see board members appointed as liaisons to various schools. You could have the five board members split up and be liaisons to four, maybe five schools. And (they should) make every effort to attend functions at those schools.

NE: Would you support a budget override election to provide more money to the district?

JG: I think there is some support in the community for an override and it's not just teachers, I've talked to some parents who support it. But there are stakeholders in the district who are far more numerous than just parents and teachers. We've got a ton of retirees, a ton of business people, we've got a ton of nonparental residents in the district who may not be retirees, they live in the district and they don't have kids. You have to take into consideration all of their concerns. If, as a boardmember, I can sit down and rationalize and analyze the financial situation and determine there is no other way to go but an override and we need to have that money, then I would support an override. But then it becomes the voters' decision. I think we need to be ready and prepared to deal with the financial situation of the district even in the absence of an override.

NE: How will you address the division in the district between the more working class, urban south and more affluent, suburban north?

JG: I'm an advocate that the board not represent one end of the district or the other. Have board members act as liaisons to various schools. I think it would be helpful in trying to … bring about more involvement of boardmembers in the other end of the district. My wife and I gave our tax credit this year … to Nash. I think that's something we can do throughout the district --communicate the importance of donating tax credits (to southern schools). Having board meetings held at those schools will acquaint boardmembers to issues that occur at those schools.

NE: What's good about the district?

JG: I think we've got a ton of very, very dedicated teachers. I think we've got a ton of dedicated administrators and parents, again, the stakeholders in the district have a genuine interest in the success of the district.

NE: What could be better about the district?

JG: Communication. I think it's critical. We can't overemphasize communication. Not just the things I'm advocating but I'm sure there are a lot of people out there with great ideas. We need to hear from them. I'm a concerned parent, I want to see the Amphi school district be the best it could be. All of the teachers my kids have had, almost without exception, have been excellent.

NE: Since more than a third of the district is in Oro Valley, how will you deal with potential conflicts as a board member and town employee?

JG: If I'm elected to the Amphi board my role will be to act on Amphi's best behalf. If I ever did truly get to a situation where there was conflict between my job and my role as a board member, I would declare a conflict. (NE: What if you were pressured by town officials?) If it ever reached that point, I guess I would have to make a decision between my job and my role as an Amphi board member.

BUSINESS EXPERIENCE GIVES INSIGHT TO BUDGET

NE: Why are you running for the school board?

DR: It's a continuation of my community service. My wife and I are an active and connected family. We believe in giving back to the community. Through our involvement with the site council, my wife has been the PTO president (Wilson). I've been on the board of (CDO) Little League for four years. But mainly I feel like I am a parent, teacher, and have a strong business background. I hope I can make a positive contribution.

NE: What are your expectations of what it will be like to serve as a board member?

DR: I think it's going to be challenging. That doesn't bother me because I like challenges. I think it doesn't look like it's going to be the easiest of times economically. So I'm willing to say let's get in there and spend smart, spend efficiently and effectively and try and do the best we can.

I hope my ideas and the ideas I capture from many, many people, make a positive contribution. You never know where the next good idea or solution is going to come from.

NE: Why will you be a good board member?

DR: Being a teacher is an asset. (My) business background, I'm comfortable in that kind of background. (I) ask the right questions. Improving communication and trying to have as many people understand why decisions are being made. I'm a very big believer in the team concept of running things. Not afraid to get out there and talk to people. Talk to teachers, talk to classified staff. People understand better if you can tell them why rather than tell them 'no, this is the way it is.' (NE: You also have to get them to believe you?) The model of transparency and being honest all the time is part of getting them to believe you.

NE: Where did you stand on the modified calendar versus traditional calendar debate?

DR: First and foremost is education and does it affect education, is it positive or negative? What's the right thing for the education of the children? I did not see anyone offer any concrete evidence that there was a real win in either direction. That being said, the second issue was economics. While I didn't expect them to give exact savings, they should be able to analyze as with any other business decision and say if we're going to change this to this, what's the economic impact. There was a lot of discussion at board meetings that we can save this or we can save that. But the only thing I saw … was $100,000 for not buying the bus and a couple other estimates. My position was, let's get some kind of guesstimate, and say here's what we prognosticate we'll save in these various areas. And if that's substantial, then by all means, we may have to do that in these trying times.

NE: What is your opinion of Arizona LEARNS?

DR: I've read some about it, I'm not an expert on it. I'm for the concept of monitoring and accountability. The feedback on these things that I get back from people who should know is there seems to be an awful lot of conflict between some of the state laws and (the federal) No Child Left Behind (Act) so I think there'll be some sorting this out as to what are the districts to do. I probably don't know enough to say I'm absolutely against it or absolutely for it. But I know enough to know that it probably is not going to continue just as it is, there'll be some evolution and hopefully vocal school districts can have some input on the state level on how to get it right.

NE: What is your view of the AIMS test and its ties to Arizona LEARNS?

DR: You need some measuring device, so doing away with it is not an option, so fix or replace is my position. I've talked to a lot of people, and the concerns are where the bar is set for the math portion and the grading and consistency of the writing portion.

You want kids to have a broad education, but you don't want teachers teaching to the test, but you also want them to know the basics. You don't want kids leaving without knowing some of the basics. You know, not everybody needs to go get a math degree like I did, but they ought to be able to balance their check book.

NE: What is your view of the board's relationship with the district's teachers?

DR: I think it could use improvement. I don't think it's bad. There will always be questions out there because of as large a district as it is and as busy as people are and trying to keep them informed is a never ending challenge. I hear kind of a mixed bag when it comes to talking to people, some are happy and some aren't. And that's going to be the same thing over the next four years. I think those things that you do hear are negative, those are the ones by far that you've got to get the word out, here's where we are. We can listen better, learn what the issues are, and then respond accordingly. If the issues are what's happening with the (Proposition) 301 money, then we need to tell them that.

NE: Would you support a budget override election to provide more money to the district?

DR: If you do an override there is a cost. I don't know the figures. Find out what that cost is. What's the risk of moving forward with an override and what's the reward. Let's say the cost is $100,000 and there's little chance of it passing or little effort from the community to support it. Then you wouldn't want to throw good money after bad. I'd have to know what the sunset risk is -- if you use it for salaries and everybody is happy, and you don't get it passed the second time. It doesn't hit me as a flat out no, but there'd have to be some analysis done before I would buy into that.

NE: How will you address the division in the district between the more working class urban south and more affluent, suburban north?

DR: Districtwide we have to be fair. You can't treat schools differently. If problems are regional then you have to address those. You've got to make sure the teaching environment is attractive across the district. It's public education and all children should have opportunities. And whatever we can do as a board to make sure the opportunities for both north and south are as equal as they can be. You know, but there's some things the board can't do. It can't change the demographics, we don't have that kind of power.

NE: What's good about the district?

DR: I think we've got good teachers, I think we've got a lot of good people in the district. My relationships have been way more positive than negative. Overall, if you look at academics at Amphi, as a lump group, it's pretty good. But that certainly doesn't mean I want to stop there.

NE: What could be better about the district?

DR: Our resources in communication. Making sure we're spending what we've got wisely. Try to be a good facilitator of communication. There will always be rumors, try to address them.

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