For the second time in eight months,
voters in the Kyrene School District
will decide this November who will
govern the district and set the
direction of their children’s education.
Less than a year after his unsuccessful
bid to unseat board member Rae Waters in
a recall election, newcomer Patrick
McGill is challenging incumbents Waters
and Ross Robb for one of two available
seats on the Governing Board.
Strategies may be different, however,
than they were at the time of the
recall. All three candidates say they
expect a clean campaign and will shun
“It’s going to be a very constructive
campaign,” McGill said.
Saying she feels the recall was personal
instead of issue-focused, Waters also is
optimistic the lead up to November’s
election will follow a more productive
“I think (the upcoming election) will be
at a higher level, a more issue-driven
level, because there are three
candidates,” she said.
Robb pledged “no negativity.”
“I don’t think you can say much negative
about anybody who is willing to serve on
a school board.”
The recall campaign began after a March
2005 school board decision to alter
middle-school schedules. The result was
an extension of time spent in most core
academic classes but a reduction in
overall class time for electives such as
art and music.
Some parents were frustrated with the
changes, saying school board members did
not adequately involve them in the
process. They organized to launch the
Waters ultimately prevailed in the March
14 recall, earning 53 percent of the
vote to McGill’s 47 percent.
The recall promises to make this year an
expensive one for Kyrene’s board
candidates. McGill and Waters combined
to spend almost $15,000 on the recall,
much of that from their own pockets,
according to campaign finance reports
filed with the Maricopa County
By contrast, combined spending by the
four candidates in the 2004 general
election totaled about $4,000.
A lot has changed in Kyrene since the
last general election. The middle school
schedule changes took effect. A new
health-education curriculum was adopted.
A new superintendent took over.
This time around some of the old issues
will reappear and new ones will emerge,
the candidates said.
Chief among those will be communication,
redistricting and the decline in student
Despite district overtures to improve
them, communications problems persist in
Kyrene, said McGill.
“Communication is one of the main issues
on parents’ minds,” McGill said.
In the midst of the recall campaign, the
district commissioned a study to
investigate its communications
The study found flaws with the
district’s internal and external
communications structure, which became a
key recall campaign issue.
McGill said he will do a better job
listening to parents and seeking
community input. He said teachers and
principals listen to parents’ concerns
but that “their hands are tied by the
“The parents want to be heard,” he said.
“I think the school board could foster a
better environment to open it up to the
But Robb and Waters defended the board’s
actions, saying the district has made
great strides toward improving internal
and external communication, such as the
hiring last month of a new
communications director to facilitate
communications with the community, the
staff and the media.
“We need to recognize that we’re all
trying to do the same thing in the end,”
Waters said. “And that’s (providing)
quality education for our kids.
Everybody’s voices have been heard.”
Both sides acknowledged that a recall
favors the incumbent.
Since the 2002-03 school year, Kyrene’s
enrollment has declined by about five
percent, according to numbers provided
Jenn Grentz, the district’s
Because state funding is based largely
on enrollment numbers, the district’s
revenue decreases with every lost
student, Robb said.
“Every school district is trying to do
the same thing, which is maximize
enrollment,” he said. “The challenge is
how to maintain or increase the
enrollment and also maintain the quality
of education for all the kids.”
The district is already making efforts
to curb enrollment declines caused by
the district’s aging demographic Kyrene
aggressively recruits students from
outside the district’s boundaries.
Arizona’s open enrollment law allows
parents to send their children to any
public school with sufficient space,
regardless of school or district
Grentz said 11 percent of Kyrene’s
18,029 students live outside the
In 2005, the legislature created a
commission to examine options to draw
new school district boundaries that
would unify the state’s non-unified
districts including Kyrene.
Kyrene is considered a non-unified
district because its students attend a
separate district for high school.
All three candidates declined to fully
support or oppose district unification
without an official plan being released,
but skepticism was not subtle.
“Can we streamline and make the process
better by having just one district
instead of two?” McGill said.
“I have an open mind and I think we need
to look at the pros and cons of
Robb said he was concerned about the
students who would have to deal with the
changes during the transition years.
“If it was such a good idea, we would
have already been doing it,” he said.
Any district unification plan would
ultimately go to the voters. Waters said
it would be crucial for voters to
educate themselves on the issue.
“I hope people pay attention to the
details,” she said.
“There could be a lot of unintended