The Higley School Board Election, by Denine Driggs

Gilbert Watch thanks Denine Driggs, a Higley resident, for providing the following post.

Elections for Higley School Board are coming up Nov. 4.  Early ballots went out Oct 9. Four candidates are running for the two available seats on the school board.  Board members serve a four year term without salary.  According to ARS 15-341,  “The governing board shall … prescribe and enforce policies and procedures for the governance of the schools, not inconsistent with laws or rules prescribed by the state board of education.”  These policies affect 
almost 11,000 students from the Gilbert and Queen Creek areas.   The board also must appoint a new superintendent when the current superintendent retires or steps down.  This election is especially important, because Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell will be retiring next Spring.

School districts should operate through a "checks and balance" system.  The administration holds the staff accountable, the Board holds the administration accountable, and the people hold the Board accountable.

In alphabetical order, the Higley School Board candidates include the following four people:  

Michelle Anderson is currently serving as database manager at Rock Point Church.  She holds a B.S. degree in secondary education, specializing in teaching biology and mathematics.  She has served on HUSD school board as secretary, and was an employee with the district for 9 years.  Ms. Anderson has also served on the Higley Parent Budget Advisory Committee.

Rebecca Jarman is currently serving as substitute teacher and volunteers as an instructor with "Constitution in the Classroom."  She holds B.S. and M.A. degrees from Brigham Young University.  She has served on the Higley Parent Budget Advisory Committee.

Venessa Whitener, is currently serving as President of the HUSD  school board and has served 2 terms. She holds B.S. and M.A. degrees from Arizona State University, and is a former Jr./Sr. High School Biology teacher. She has a background in school finances.

Greg Wojtovich, currently serves as an adviser at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, including the college's Hispanic Student Organization.  He has also been a soccer coach and has served with various youth organizations.  NOTE:  Should Mr. Wojtovich be elected, he may have a conflict of interest and be unable to discuss or vote on certain issues, thus resulting in a possible 2-2 tie.  This is because his daughter is a teacher at Coronado Elementary.  Click HERE for more details.   

Candidates' responses to various issues:

Budget and Funding 

Ms. Michelle Anderson 

The budget is a huge issue for her.  She supports rational spending, holding Administration and the Board accountable, and improving fiscal responsibility.  She also believes that teacher retention is important.  In doing research, she found that last year, 25% more teachers have resigned than in the previous year.  She believes that teachers should be able to afford to teach by having the resources in the classroom.  This includes not just textbooks, and instructional materials, but also paper, glue sticks, and other necessary items.  The students should not have to rely on the community and parents for support.  Ms. Anderson believes that teachers shouldn't have to cancel projects due to lack of supplies or have to buy their own materials.

Ms. Anderson does not support the recent property tax override.  

Ms. Rebecca Jarman
 

"Tax dollars are distributed to school districts for student education which develops in the classrooms, and should be our main concern. I am confident," she recently said in an interview with AZ Central, "as we get deeper into the numbers, we will have the ability to accomplish this adequately."  At a recent forum held Sept 11 by the Arizona LD12 Republicans, Rebecca stated that on May 6, the school board voted to put over $600,000 in the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Fund, part of which funds students/classroom expenses.  Later, on May 13, the school board voted to put that money towards administrative pay raises.

Ms. Jarman has stated many times that she will be a trusted advocate, staying in touch with the concerns of parents, students, teachers, and the community, valuing their opinions and their input.

Ms. Jarman believes that the classrooms should be funded first and administration last. "Teachers need to know that they are supported, that they don't have to take out of their own grocery money to fund their classrooms," she said at the Arizona LD12 Republican Forum held on Sept 11.

Ms. Jarman does not support the recent property tax override.  

Ms. Venessa Whitener

"Something I work on a lot in education funding, is trying to inform parents of the restrictions and how hand-tied we are," she said in a recent interview.   She went on to say that "parents often don't understand that state and federal funding for schools can only be used in specific ways."  

She feels the Board has so much more to do to help the community, and parents don't understand that the administration costs are student driven.  At the Arizona LD12 Republican Forum she further explained that the money goes to administrative costs such as "instructional coaches, reading coaches, gifted coaches, literary coaches. and math coaches in the classrooms.  They are all lumped in administrative costs, and that's the communication breakdown."   (In-classroom instructional coaches are "administrative"?  Not according to the Arizona Auditor General.  Click HERE to see how the Auditor General defines categories in Appendix B.  It's pretty sad when the president of a school board is ignorant about the difference between Classroom Personnel and Administration, and she passes on her ignorance by "miseducating" parents.)  

In the past, Ms. Whitener has been supportive of overrides, public-private partnerships, even building a compressed natural gas station that would have competed against private businesses.   Ms. Whitener is the consistent board spokesperson on behalf of Administration.  In fact, Superintendent Birdwell is so pleased with Ms. Whitener's representation of Administration that she donated $500 to her campaign.    Click HERE to read the campaign report.

Ms. Whitener supports the recent property tax override.  

Mr. Greg Wojtovich

At a forum held by the Higley Education Association on Sept 17, Mr. Wojtovich stated that he sees the budget as the greatest challenge and that the district needs to prioritize a strategy for the future.  He wants to provide the teachers with the latest innovations and compensate teachers who go the extra mile.  (Does he know that in doing this, he might be placing himself in a Conflict of Interest, since his daughter is one of those teachers?)  Click HERE regarding Mr. Wojtovich's possible Conflict of Interest.)  

Mr. Wojtovich did not state his opinion on the property tax override.  

Charter Schools/School Choice with Tax Dollars 

(GW NOTE:  Shouldn't "School Choice" really be up to the parents?  Two candidates see this very clearly.  Two don't.) 

Ms. Michelle Anderson

She asks why are charter schools growing in popularity?  What can traditional schools do to meet the desires of the parents?  She believes that school choice gives children the opportunity to attend schools that meet the student's skills and needs.

Ms. Rebecca Jarman

She believes that there is something to be learned from parents who put their children in charter schools.  Charter schools, she feels, are getting the job done in educating the children and doing it on less money. She says, "you pay the taxes, you pick the school."  

Ms. Venessa Whitener

Although Ms. Whitener has stated that she "supports school choice," does she really?  In reality, she seems to resent the competition and would like to stop parents from sending their children to charter schools.  In an email to Gilbert Watch, she railed against "...FOR-Profit Charters who use public tax dollars to make their earnings very cushy, use tax dollars for property/land that then becomes the owners' own assests which they can then sell for more profit, using public tax dollars to buy RV's and adverstise (sic) on them, then write it off as a tax dediction (sic)..."  (Does she have proof of these assertions?)  

Ms Whitener has been ranting against charters for over a year.  See Answers to Higley Board Member Whitener's Questions:  How do we compete?  How do we keep up with growth?

Ms. Whitener also believes that FOR-Profit Charters put "business and profits first."  

What Ms. Whitener ignores is that, if the non-profit or for-profit schools aren't cutting the mustard, they will be forced to close by the Charter Board or by the market.  Parents determine "the market" for charter schools.  Charters wouldn't exist if parents didn't send their kids to them!  These market forces don’t exist for government public schools, such as those in the Higley Public School District that Ms. Whitener represents.    

Mr. Greg Wojtovich

"What I would like to see is equality."  There is an "uneven playing field stacked in favor of charter schools," he said at the Higley Education Forum.  In a more recent forum, Mr. Wojtovich stated:  

"Charter schools are here to make money, not to educate," and, "Charter school teachers are not certified."

The law simply does not require a teacher at a charter school to be state certified.  Many charters employ teachers who have their state certificate.  Some of those teachers have graduate degrees, and some even have doctorates.  

In making these sweeping generalizations against charters, Mr. Wojtovich has declared war on parents, not charters.  If the charters weren't doing a great job of "educating" their children, parents wouldn't be choosing them.

Communication/Transparency/Accountability Issues

Ms. Michelle Anderson

Ms. Anderson feels there is a lack of trust in the Higley Administration and that there should be accountability with the school board members and the administration.  She also feels that the Board does not actively try to learn what the community wants to know.  As board member she would be an advocate for the community.

Ms. Rebecca Jarman 
 

"Districts have a systemic lack of transparency.  There is a responsibility to insure that communication with the parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers are clear and easily understood."  She feels that the present Board appears unapproachable to the community and that the Board's response is 'we don't understand why the community doesn't understand'.  When voting on important issues, she feels many times the community learns about the issue after it has been voted on.

Ms. Venessa Whitener

Communication to the community on why and where the money is being spent is her biggest concern, she stated at the Arizona LD 12 Republican Forum.  She acknowledges that Higley is not perfect and has much to do to refine this communication process. Since she has been on the Board, they have included more financial information on their website, increased mailings on their audit/financial reports and board agendas.  She feels that the school board needs to do a better job in asking and seeking more parental input and that communication to the community is important. Her main concern is that, "the customer service is no where it needs to be, and we need to respect the parents. I want the parent to be a team member.  I appreciate parent input," she said at the Arizona LD 12 Republican meeting.  She also readily admits that the ability to reaching the whole community has been weak and needs improvement.

"On increasing transparency she said that the District's actions are virtually wide open to FOIA requests, but she feels how many people would understand the documents they get back because of the education jargon.  It would make it hard for the people to follow."  She believes Cliff Notes versions on issues would help the general public understand them, she stated in the HUSD Candidate Forum.  

Mr. Greg Wojtovich

Communication is important and he sees the need to communicate with the community.
 

Various open houses for the candidates are being held throughout the district area to help the community get to know candidates better on a more personal level.

See also:
 
Arizona Auditor General Report 2013:  Higley School District
 
Arizona Auditor Statewide Report:  School District Spending 
 

Meet Higley School Board Candidates.  

Gilbert - Higley School Board Candidates Face Off

LD12 Gilbert/Higley School Board Candidate Forum

HUSD Candidate Forum

Answers to Higley Board Member Whitener’s Questions: “How do we compete? How do we keep up with growth"?   

Did Higley Governing Board Members Deceive the MCBOS in their $750,000 Grant Request?