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Activists Dominate recall forum
Dialog, new superintendent seen as key Kyrene issues
By Jonathan J. Cooper

March 4, 2006

Vocal supporters of each candidate far outnumbered undecided voters when a Kyrene school board member and the challenger hoping to replace her in an upcoming recall election faced off Monday in a
candidate forum.

Both candidates stressed improved communication and the selection of a new superintendent as key issues facing the district in coming months. During the hour-long session sponsored by the Pueblo Middle School and Paloma Elementary School parent-teacher associations, incumbent Rae Waters repeatedly emphasized her seven years of experience on the Kyrene Governing Board, saying she has a long track record of fighting for students and
advocating for education at the district, state and federal levels.
"I see being on the governing board as a supportive role for education and educators," Waters told the gathering of about 100 during an opening statement.
"I know how the state and federal government work with respect to education and I understand the funding issues and state statues regarding education."

Challenger Patrick McGill used his opening statement to say that parents had been "shut out" of the decision-making process under Waters' tenure and reminded the audience throughout the discussion
that the March 14 vote is not part of a regularly scheduled school board election.
"Why are we really here tonight? We are here tonight because this is a recall election…because approximately 9,500 Kyrene parents and concerned citizens of the Kyrene School District signed
petitions to have Rae Waters recalled," McGill said.

That recall movement began a year ago when the Kyrene Governing Board voted to adopt a restructured schedule for middle school classes, which extended time in math, science and social studies classes, but reduced it in reading and language arts classes.

Meeting times for elective classes like fine arts and physical education were reduced from daily to every other day, and Spanish was changed from a required course to an elective.

Recall organizers allege that Waters, then serving for one year as the board's president, did not adequately involve parents in the decision-making process.

Waters maintains that she made her decision with students' best interests in mind, and that a variety of factors led to that decision, including community input, research and budgetary considerations.
Late last year, a district-authorized, independent communications audit offered recommendations for creating a better "two-way flow of communication," which recall backers charge was lacking during the
schedule-change debates.

Both candidates suggested getting students more involved. McGill discussed encouraging students to attend and speak at school board meetings as an opportunity for both communication and education.
Waters said the board encourages student presentations at board meetings and suggested students work with the site-based council at their own schools to get more involved.

McGill charged that the district's communication with teachers is ineffective. Kyrene, for the last four of five years, has done nothing but suppress its teachers' views," he said. "It's a culture of fear. We need to have open, two-way, effective communication with the teachers. We can't write them off because they have great ideas because they don't get along with the administration."

Both candidates also listed the selection of a new superintendent to replace the departing Maria Menconi as a critical action with which the election's winner will be involved. Both said the superintendent
selection is a rare and significant opportunity to dramatically influence the district's future. McGill criticized some of Menconi's actions and suggested that her premature departure might be a
"It's unfortunate that our superintendent now is stepping down early," he said. "But actually for the Kyrene School District it may not be a bad thing. Unfortunately, she was one of the people who also
pushed this new curriculum through the school without the parents support, without the teacher and staff support as well."

Waters responded that community input was heavily sought in the selection of Menconi and that she expected the same would be done with the selection of her replacement. She added that Menconi's
experience would be valuable in the selection process.
"I think it is a very important time to hire a superintendent, and to have someone who has knowledge of what is required, what the laws are, what is out there, who the superintendents are, who is familiar with superintendents across the country and across the state," Waters said.

McGill, a Tempe attorney, treated the Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School auditorium as a courtroom. When answering questions, he stood up from the table as if addressing a judge.

As if presiding over a school board meeting, Waters remained seated at the table for most of her responses, choosing to stand only for her closing statement.

Persuadable voters were hard to discern through the crowd, which more resembled a group of activists at  a political rally than undecided parents hoping for answers.

Supporters on both sides of the recall issue acknowledged their approval and cheered loudly for their favored candidates' responses to questions.



Photo by David Stone








































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