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Recall backers 'misguided,' claim Waters' allies
By Jonathan J. Cooper

February 4, 2006

When Rae Waters ponders the relative mountain of public criticism of her actions on the Kyrene School District Governing Board last year, she tries hard not to let her skin get too thick, lest she lose concern for her constituents.

And that’s no surprise to her colleagues and supporters, who emphatically defend her character and her service to Kyrene.

They call a recall effort launched last year against Waters “misguided,” and point to her meticulous devotion to the decision-making process as evidence of her competence.

“If you get a really thick skin, then how do you care about things?” Waters asked. “If (criticism) doesn’t get to me, I guess to me it would mean that I wasn’t caring.”

A vote in favor of a controversial change in middle school scheduling—as well as accusations from some parents that Waters blatantly disregarded their input on the issue—thrust Waters into the spotlight last year. In May, angry parents launched an effort to remove her from office.

Parents collected enough signatures to force a March 14 recall election which will pit Waters against Tempe Attorney Patrick McGill.

The divisive new schedule 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.

Waters stands by her vote, saying it was in the best interests of Kyrene students, and that she arrived at her decision after listening to the community and doing extensive research.

She acknowledges that the plan has some kinks to work out, but says “nothing’s perfect, there’s always issues.” She criticized the plan’s opponents for setting up a “self-fulfilling prophesy” by prejudging its success.

“If you’re positive something’s not going to work, you’re going to make it not work unintentionally,” she said.

She also cites her seven years lobbying the U.S. Congress and the Arizona Legislature as evidence of her care for Kyrene students. In fact, she said, she is going to Washington this month to lobby for education reforms, particularly to the No Child Left Behind act, “when my own self interest would be to stay here and campaign.”

Two of Waters’ board colleagues offered strong defenses and pledged their support in the March 14 recall election.

Sue Knudson, who joined Waters in supporting the controversial schedule change last March, was particularly critical of the use of the recall provision in this circumstance.

“Quite honestly, I think it’s inappropriate to recall a board member over one decision,” said Knudson, who was ineligible for recall at the time because her term had just begun.

She also praised Waters as genuinely interested in engaging the community and reaching out to parents and encouraging them to get involved.

“(Waters) has devoted years to public education,” Knudson said. “She’s totally respected among her peers as board members in the state of Arizona. I don’t know anyone who is better at what they do, more committed to serving the kids of their school district.”

Board member Ross Robb, who joined the Kyrene Governing Board after the controversial vote took place, stuck up for Waters’ handling of the situation and said it did not merit a recall, particularly with a regularly scheduled election for Waters’ seat in November.

“She made a difficult vote back in March,” Robb said. “She thought it out, her intentions were good, and she made a vote. And whether you agree or not with it, I don’t believe it warranted a recall.”

He went on to offer an endorsement to Waters’ character and work ethic.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect, both personally and professionally, for Rae,” he said.

“I think that she is a tireless worker on behalf of not only kids in the Kyrene School District but in her capacity as president of the Arizona School Boards Association.

“I think she’s a tireless worker on behalf of all public school students in the state of Arizona.”

Waters also counts fellow Kyrene parents and friends among her staunch supporters, who contend that the recall is an unnecessary use of district resources.

“It’s a major waste of money,” said Robin Landtroop, a former Kyrene parent and Waters supporter. “I think people probably forgot that aspect of it. It’s simply a disagreement.”

District officials estimate the cost of the election to be $53,000 if the 5,000 early ballots are requested, up to $75,000 if 20,000 voters want to mail in their ballot.

She also said that the plan’s critics should withhold judgment until it has gone through a three-year, battle-tested cycle with a class of students.

Landtroop called the active recall supporters a “very small group” whose views are not representative of Kyrene parents as a whole.

Another Waters supporter said the recall is “misguided” and that Waters is an excellent board member who was just doing her job.

“I have a good deal of respect for how she does her job and the effort that she puts into it,” said Kathy Renolds, a Centennial Middle School parent.

“In this case I agreed with her decision, but I have not always agreed with her in the past. But she has a real steely independence that I think is really valuable in a board member. I can’t envision anybody who would be an adequate replacement for her.”

Last summer, as the recall organizers were collecting the necessary signatures to force the recall election, the dispute got heated, with a series of newspaper editorials and letters to the editor shooting accusations in all directions.

“I think there’s been a lot of character assassination,” Waters said. “There have been things that have been said about the middle school model, and about the decisions, and about me personally, about some of the board members personally that were just blatantly untrue.”

She said she hopes to avoid such viciousness in the next political fight over the election itself.

“I’m not going to go there,” she said.

She did, however, suggest that McGill, her recall opponent, was not actively involved in the Kyrene School District prior to his school board candidacy.

She said she was approached by the principals at the two schools which McGill’s children attend.

“They came up to me to say, ‘We have never heard of him, we’ve never seen him, we don’t know who he is,’” she recalled.

“So I thought that was kind of interesting, that even his principals didn’t know who he was.”





























































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