Former GPS Board Member Endorses Daryl Colvin, Eric Johnson, Julie Smith for School Board!

First, a word from Gilbert Watch.  Since I began Gilbert Watch on February 17, 2010, I have never (N-E-V-E-R) published an article or letter from a person who is "left leaning." (NEVER)  Today, October 30, 2012, will be the first time.

Though Karen Udall, a former Democrat, now a registered Independent, describes herself as an "unlikely contributor to Gilbert Watch, a registered independent, left leaning moderate," she understands better than anyone why Gilbert Voters MUST remove the current board members from office, and replace them with Daryl Colvin, Eric Johnson, and Julie Smith.

Ms. Udall and I do not agree about the Override. She supports it. I don’t. 

However, we both know that critical decisions affecting all children attending Gilbert Public Schools will be made by the newly elected school board members. We both 100% agree that it is IMPERATIVE that you vote for Daryl Colvin, Eric Johnson, and Julie Smith for all the reasons that Ms. Karen Udall explains in her letter which follows.

I wish to express my appreciation to Ms. Karen Udall, whom I greatly respect and admire, for allowing me to publish her letter on Gilbert Watch.

October 2012

Dear Friends:

Warning…this letter is long, but it is extremely important for the students and schools in Gilbert, so I am asking for you to read it all.

You may know that I had the opportunity to serve on the Gilbert School Board from 1998-2002, and then on the Gilbert Education Foundation until 2004 (or 2005? I can’t remember that far back).  I have completely enjoyed remaining out of the political scene since then, and trusted that the people in charge would take care of the students and teachers. Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, there has been a decrease in Board accountability, and an increase in “rubber stamping” whatever comes up from Administration, and I strongly believe it’s time for change!

I support Daryl Colvin, Eric Johnson, and Julie Smith for the School Board, and I encourage you to join me. I have had several conversations with each of them, and I believe that they will help turn the District back to where the focus should be: students, classroom spending, teachers, quality programs, and fiscal responsibility with your tax dollars.

The School Board position is non-partisan, but those of you who know me well will think this is an unlikely recommendation.  I feel so strongly that we need accountability from our Board Members that I am highly recommending three candidates who are (from a partisan perspective) different than me.  However, when it comes to what’s good for the students, teachers, and community in Gilbert, we are not different.  I believe that each of you should seriously consider each of these individuals for our students.

Let me share with you the most recent “rubber stamp” by our current school board (3 of whom are running for re-election). It started with a notice to repurpose Gilbert Junior High with 13 days notice: from letter to parents received on Sept 19, to information meeting on Sept 25, to Board vote on Oct 2 . Incidentally, over 30% of the Gilbert Jr. High students are of Hispanic background, but the letter was not translated into Spanish.

No Community Involvement!

We will have 672 students displaced among 3 different junior high schools. Boundaries will change affecting thousands of students (5 of the 6 junior highs are impacted); portables will be added to at least one of the other junior high campuses due to lack of space in the current buildings; teachers who have served our district for as many as 30 years will be spread throughout the district; and there was NO community input regarding the situation!

Neither the Board or Administration have Assessed the Impact or Costs

Additionally, prior to, and at the meeting, the Board and Administration were asked several questions regarding the impact to students; the traffic through a neighborhood where 300 of the elementary students are “walking” students; the out-of-district students who bring much needed funding to the District; the impact on the special education students and programs; recent homes purchased in the area and how many students will be coming up; the full cost of renovating the campus for its new purpose; and much more.

The District replied that they did not do a traffic study; they did not consider the special education program on the campus; they did not consider the new student drivers who will be going through the small neighborhood streets; they didn’t check on the demographics coming up in the next several years; and they only know the cost of the project for the first year–although that is a rough estimate with nothing confirmed.
Regarding the first year costs, I’ve personally been told by a member of the superintendency, “It shouldn’t cost that much.”

There was much discussion at the board meeting, and the same answers kept coming from the Administration…we don’t know. The Administration openly admitted that they did not consider all of the factors, or other options within the district; however, the Board still voted 3 – 1 to close a school. (One board member, Lily Tram, was not in attendance, but she confirmed two days later, in a forum, that she would have voted in the majority.) That, in my opinion, makes for an irresponsible Board Member.

I have since learned that this most recent decision is one of many where this Board is not being responsible with your tax dollars, or your students. While you may not be directly impacted by the decision at GJHS, if this Board and Administration are willing to give 13 days notice without community input to one set of parents, they will do it to many.

Seeing how things have been going, I started looking into other decisions they have made, and it does, in fact, appear that the current Board has decided to serve the administration, not the community, teachers, and students. In doing so, they are not good stewards of your tax dollars.  Ironically, at a forum two days after the vote on Oct. 2, two of the incumbents stated that they encourage community input, and it’s in their platform!
In an interesting turn, the board President, running for re-election, is calling out the administration and blaming the superintendent for not following her direction for community involvement. Here’s the thing: she had every opportunity at the Board Meeting to second three different motions that would have stopped this “runaway train” and get community input. Each motion made to slow down the process died for lack of second. I guess actions actually DO speak louder than words. This Board must accept responsibility for their own actions, and should not place blame anywhere but upon themselves.

Some Board Members "Punish" Superintendent even though they Had Final Responsibility

Most recently, the performance pay for the Superintendent came up on the agenda, and board president EJ Anderson and board member Blake Sacha, who both supported the junior high debacle, decided to not give Dr. Allison his full bonus for the most recent period. Why? Was it election strategy, or did they want to punish him for his actions, when they supported those actions just two weeks prior? What are these Board Members teaching our children? Blame others for your actions? Eek.

The Override

An important note about the budget override, which is also on the ballot: The override issue is NOT directly connected to whom you vote for on the Board.  The override is already on the ballot, and it’s up to each voter to make that decision. The only connection is this…who will spend your tax dollars wisely and appropriately if it passes; and who will make cuts with the least amount of impact to the students if it doesn’t.  I am personally voting FOR the override, and FOR Colvin, Johnson, and Smith to be good stewards with my tax dollars.

I support the override because the teachers and support staff in our District work hard to educate our students, and because public education funding in Arizona is lower than anywhere else in the nation. The employees in Gilbert Schools work hard because they love teaching and they love their students. I appreciate them, and I support the funding going to the students in Gilbert.

The incumbents are promoting the override to keep class sizes low, but during my son’s senior year (he just graduated in 2012), he was the 36th student in a class and shared a desk with his teacher. Ask other teachers how many kids are in their secondary school classes. The incumbents state that passing this override will give teachers an increase, but we currently have an override, and the teacher salaries have been frozen for several years. Why didn’t they provide the increase to the teachers with the current override? They state that not passing the override will result in loss of art and music programs. I have to wonder, if they cut programs that hurt students…where does their allegiance lie? Maybe they feel if the cuts hurt badly enough, people will feel the pain and vote for an override next time.

There are several other areas to cut without hurting students and programs, and we can use our “rainy day” fund of approximately $11 million dollars. Spend wisely, and then look to an override in the future, if it remains necessary. However, even with this knowledge, I will be voting FOR the override, because I believe in putting my tax dollars to the students, and I will be voting FOR Colvin, Smith, and Johnson to manage those funds as new School Board Members.

This election year is a big deal nationally, as it includes a presidential election, but on a local level it’s huge!

Please join me in voting FOR the override, and FOR Colvin, Johnson, and Smith for ALL of Gilbert’s students!


Karen Udall
Former GPS School Board Member