With Election Day just around the corner, the COVID-19 pandemic still is playing significant role in education, especially on the Tempe Elementary School District Governing Board race.
Three seats on the supposed nonpartisan Tempe El Board are open but only two candidates’ names are on the ballot. They are joined by four write-ins.
Why so many write-ins this year? Tim Sifert, chief communications officer for Maricopa County Schools Superintendent Steve Watson, said that COVID-19 likely played a role.
“The number of write-ins is only slightly higher than in previous elections, probably attributable to candidates saying they were having a tougher time collecting signatures in person because of the pandemic,” Sifert said.
Watson, he noted, has met with dozens of candidates and heard similar complaints.
“He’s well aware that some elected officials can collect signatures online, but not school board candidates,” Sifert said.
Any write-in candidate must file a one-page declaration or nomination paper with the county. Only votes for qualified candidates are valid, so if a voter casts a ballot for, say, Mickey Mouse, it would not be counted.
Allison Ewers is on the ballot as a certified candidate. The Tempe mom and business owner said that if elected she would keep and develop community business relationships to ensure that all students have access to learning.
“COVID-19 has magnified the inequality in our state. I will support all of our students no matter their race, income or needs level. All of our children deserve a quality public education,” Ewers said. “We have seen in the last few months how important a crisis-management plan is. I excel in crisis management and staying calm.”
Ewers said she supports increasing school funding and decreasing class size. She also supports access to affordable health care for all plus teacher recruitment and retention.
Jim Lemmon, a write-in candidate, served on the Tempe Elementary Board from 2002 to 2018.
“I thought for weeks about the various requests from current elected community and city leaders to run again. When only two candidates qualified for the printed ballot, I waited until the last possible moment to throw my name into the list of write-in candidates,” Lemmon said.
“On-the-job training can be done for this position of setting a budget over $150,000,000 with 1,800 employees, 22 neighborhood-centered schools and over 11,000 students. However, this may not be the right time to start a very steep learning curve for several new untested inexperienced board members.”
Michael Metzger, a write-in candidate, is an MIT-trained engineer and former calculus teacher with a leading role at Teach America, an education advocacy group that recruits educators to teach in low-income schools. He says he wants to expand “pathways to opportunity for all students to end the achievement gap and ensure successful futures for all children in our community” and focus on building communication between parents, educators and school board members so that families “have a voice in their child’s education.”
He says he also wants to grow STEM opportunities to provide students with the foundation they need for 21st century careers.
As to his status as a write-in candidate, he said taking care of elderly relatives in Florida during the pandemic prevented him from collecting enough signatures to be on the ballot.
Tim Taylor, a write-in candidate, is the father of three young children and served 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He grew up in Tempe, attending Frank Elementary and Marcos de Niza High. He said he wants to be the voice for parents on the school board.
“As a father, husband, and veteran, I know how valuable an early quality education is,” Taylor said. “My focus is, and will always be, doing what’s best for the students.
“My vision for Tempe is to not just be competitive, but to be the best district in the state, to put students first in every decision, and let parents know that their voices are heard.”
Monica Trejo, who is on the ballot, is the president of the Tempe Elementary Board and is seeking re-election.
She said she grew up in poverty, experiencing homelessness, but went on to become the first in her family to graduate from high school and is now working on a doctoral degree.
“Education has provided me many opportunities that I would like all students to have access to. Such a goal can only be achieved through collaborative efforts from parents, educators and our community leaders,” Trejo said. “Therefore, we must work together to ensure that all of our students are equipped with the necessary tools to be the future commercial and civic leaders of this city that we love so much.
“I commit to fight for Arizona’s kids every day and to achieve excellence in our schools.”
Rochelle Wells, a write-in candidate, serves on the board and is running for re-election.
“I have chosen to run for re-election because I am a passionate advocate for children and public education,” Wells said.
She echoed some of Lemmon’s thoughts on experience.
“To be successful in this current COVID-19 pandemic, public education requires experienced Governing Board members who are leaders and who know and understand how to work with the superintendent and the community to govern the school district’s operations to provide a safe learning environment for all students and staff.”
Wells said she’s running as a write-in candidate because “when the COVID-19 pandemic began, I thought it was unethical for me to go door-to-door or participate in the political parties’ drop off tables. As a nonpartisan candidate, I also did not choose to participate in mailings with the political parties.”
Tempe Mayor Corey Woods says he’s known Lemmon for more than a decade and is supporting him, Trejo and Ewers.