The tone of the discussion at the Tempe Union High School District Governing Board meeting concerning the South Mountain Freeway was very different from the discussion two weeks earlier. At the Nov. 6 meeting, the board voted two in favor, one opposed and one abstaining from voting against the Loop 202 Freeway.
In October, board member David Schapira was absent, representing the district at the Don Carlos Humanitarian Award Ceremony. At that time the board discussed passing a resolution opposing the South Mountain Freeway, but ultimately decided to delay the vote until the language of the resolution could be strengthened.
Board president Michelle Helm expressed some doubt that the board should pass a resolution in October, but was convinced by comments from the public and the discussion at the meeting that a resolution was a good idea. At the Nov. 6 meeting, Helm was not in attendance and the crowd’s comments were much calmer, assuming that the new strengthened resolution would easily pass.
Only one member of the community, Mel Hannah, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident and former Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee member, questioned why the board was even taking a stance on this issue that is not directly related to education. It was that argument Schapira used to oppose the resolution.
“This is not an educational issue,” Schapira said. “This is not a school district issue or school district business. I believe it opens a Pandora’s Box in terms of the school district weighing in on various other issues that are not school district or educational issues. Although the sacred land and air quality concerns are valid concerns that I share, this is not the proper venue nor do I believe, with all due respect to the Kyrene School District, that any school district has the prerogative or the responsibility to weigh into issues such as this that are not educational or school district issues.”
Schapira said connections made to the school district were too thin to necessitate the district taking a stand.
Board members Sandy Lowe and Moses Sanchez disagreed whole-heartedly.
“To think that this would not affect negatively or have an impact on our students — I don’t know what to say,” Sanchez said. “Not only will it affect our student’s air quality, but how many single-family homes will be destroyed by this? There’s a church right there on Pecos Road that was instrumental in allowing us to have the President’s visit. They are so much a part of our community. These are our students. I couldn’t disagree more on our prerogative regarding this issue. I think it is important for us to step up to the plate when asked, and our community did ask.”
There were four board members in attendance and vice president Mary Lou Taylor became the swing vote on the resolution. Taylor said she had talked to several people since the October meeting and was too torn on how to vote. She decided to abstain from voting.
At first it was thought the resolution had not passed because a majority of the board had not approved it, but the district’s legal council said Thursday that with two members voting yes, one opposing and two abstaining, the motion did pass.
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