A freshman Tempe member of the Kyrene Governing Board found herself out on a limb last week when she openly criticized Superintendent Jan Vesely, voted against extending her contract and said the district needs a new executive leader at the helm.
Her four colleagues couldn’t disagree more.
Michelle Fahy’s stunning speech at the board meeting last week drew immediate rebukes from her four colleagues. But it also may have made Vesely an election issue just two years into her tenure at the district – about six months longer than Fahy has been on the board.
“I believe that the district needs a superintendent who will come to the table and work with all board members equally, be willing to engage in healthy discussions – which may lead to differences of opinion, may have disagreements, or hopefully lots of agreements as well, but certainly different points of view,” Fahy said, adding:
“I think we need someone who is willing to answer questions of all board members, not just whenever all the other board members have a question, but (when) any board member has a question, because I think that’s why there are five of us, so that we can all ask questions. I think that the lack of communication and the opportunity to meet as a board member is troublesome to me.”
Fahy went on to say that she had a series of emails over a six-week time period requesting a meeting with Vesely that failed to get action.
“My concern is not about me, but this is indicative of a bigger communication issue that we have in Kyrene,” she continued. “I care deeply about Kyrene. I taught here for 19 years, and Kyrene is about its students and its staff and its community. And I believe that Kyrene deserves the superintendent who will look at all the issues, both positive and negative.”
Addressing Vesely directly, Fahy said, “We have come a long way as a district, Dr. Vesely. There are lots of positive things that you have done, and I do not discount that in any way.”
Claiming “we are not a business,” however, Fahy complained that Vesely continues to “push aside or ignore repeated requests for conversation and issues,” thereby reducing Fahy’s effectiveness as a school board member.
“I believe that Kyrene could be better served by someone who is willing to engage in the tough conversations to help address all the needs in our district,” she added.
Vesely maintains separate councils comprising different segments of the district that she meets with regularly. They include one for parents, one for community members, another for students from all 25 Kyrene schools, one for business owners and one for teachers.
Fahy’s remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Michael Myrick, who was elected in 2016, the same year Fahy was.
“I couldn’t think of a better superintendent I’d rather have for the district,” Myrick said. “And Dr. Vesely, I think she’s done a great job. I think she meets with anyone and everyone. Every time I’ve asked her for a meeting, I have always had it, always been able to meet with her.”
“You’re wrong,” Myrick told Fahy. “The district is a business. We’re in the business of raising children and teaching children. There happens to be a financial component to that, but we are a business. We have a bond rating, we have a credit rating, we have people that we employ. We are in the business of educating children.”
Myrick also took notice of a few people in the audience who criticized the district administration earlier in the meeting.
“It’s amazing to me that we have a hiring fair and there’s 200 people for 10 openings,” he said, adding that Kyrene must be doing something right.
“It’s a little redundant when the same group of people keep saying how bad the district is and yet we still have people that are here, that want to come here, people that move here for this district, and you would think we are the worst district in the state based on some of the comments and what people say. It’s absolutely amazing. That being said, I think you’ve done a great job,” Myrick told Vesely.
Bernadette Coggins, who is wrapping up eight years on the board and is not seeking re-election, recounted the number of troubling issues she and past boards dealt with under Vesely’s predecessor.
“What she’s done in two years that didn’t get done in 10 years to me is amazing,” Coggins said of Vesely.
“Do we have areas where we can improve?” Coggins continued. “Absolutely. I don’t know any district that doesn’t.”
Coggins also said it was imperative to extend Vesely’s contract now because “our district cannot afford to not finish the great work that’s been started.”
Board member John King suggested Fahy’s opposition was no secret to her colleagues on the board.
“I’m really glad you sort of came out,” he told Fahy at one point.
He then discussed the role of a board member and suggested Fahy had gone beyond her role in setting policy for the district and was trying to meddle with its management.
“We are very limited to our scope of responsibility,” said King, who is retired after working a number of years as a management consultant to companies.
“We are a governance group,” he continued. “We are not an operations or management group. We deal with governance, policy issues and things like that. We deal with budgets, we deal with the higher-level things. The district administration is responsible for management, and when we have board members who wanted to dip down into the management level, that creates serious problems.”
Vesely did not speak at the meeting and Fahy had no response to the remarks by her colleagues.
But after the board voted 4-1 to extend Vesely’s contract, another disagreement broke out between Fahy and the other four board members over the way minutes of a meeting on May 21 characterized the remarks of a departing teacher who was moving to Colorado for another job.
That teacher, Andrew Williams, said the district has a morale problem and that he wanted to discuss it by using a problem-solving method he relies on in the classroom.
He went on to say that he thought morale was low because of “communication, compensation and complaints” and that “some parent voices are being valued more than others and some teachers are being given due process while others are being removed haphazardly with knee-jerk reactions.”
He gave no specifics.
The minutes of his remarks summarized them as stating he was talking about the method he referred to rather than morale and Fahy wanted the minutes amended.
Following a lengthy discussion, she was voted down 4-1.