It was with great interest that we read the coalition of Gilbert leaders’ open letter to Town residents and businesses last week. We were encouraged that our community leaders had finally spoken out on the raging storm that threatens our Gilbert Public Schools.
We agreed when they wrote that “Education has always been – and always will be – the cornerstone of this community.”
Further, it’s true that dedicated school district staff, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders have “worked tirelessly to earn the reputation for top-notch educational options.”
We believed the letter was spot-on when it pointed out our schools are “among the chief reasons so many families move to Gilbert.”
However, when the letter-signers state they “have been saddened to witness the turmoil and controversy surrounding recent Gilbert Public Schools governing board meetings,” we disagree on this point. We are not simply saddened—we are outraged.
We are outraged that some members of our school board have blatantly put their political agendas front and center. We are outraged at their embarrassing, self-serving behavior during board meetings. We are outraged that seasoned teachers are leaving in droves; that resignations of valued staff are rampant, including our interim superintendent and all but one assistant superintendent; and that our students and their education are afterthoughts amid the political posturing.
Why should we expect anything different? Well, for many, many reasons.
But right now, we want to focus on the GPS governing board’s own ethics policy. These are the rules, the parameters, by which all board members have agreed to operate.
The first line of the policy begins: “Board members will strive to improve public education and to that end will ...” Note the use of the word “public.” Which means board president Staci Burk should read more closely before she proposes a plan whereby students can use public funds to pay for private school tuition.
Also, when board member Daryl Colvin lobbied for his good friend Dwayne Farnsworth to be selected as our new Superintendent, or repeatedly acknowledges his own ultra-conservative, right-wing agenda, he should read: “Avoid being placed in a position of conflict of interest, and refrain from using their Board position for personal or partisan gain.”
And in light of what’s popping up on social media sites these days, let’s throw this one in for good measure: “Take no private action that will compromise the Board or administration, and respect the confidentiality of information that is privileged under applicable law.”
We are relieved to know our community is waking up and taking notice. We were happy to read the coalition’s call: “The time is now to come together and set aside our differences, disagreements and ideologies for the betterment of our community.”
But if that call means quiet down and go away, we will not. We will fight for our students, teachers, and staff - the public schools - that are the heart of our town.
So, we suggest that if our local leaders truly want to help, if they truly meant it when they wrote “We pledge to do everything we can to continue to build Gilbert for the benefit of future generations,” they will exert pressure on our school board members to abide by the ethics rules in place. If board members cannot, or will not, fulfill their commitments, these self-same coalition leaders need to remind them they are honor-bound to resign.
To our mayor, council members, and prominent citizens: we are glad you’ve decided to enter the conversation. Now let’s hope you continue to let your voices be heard.
Finally, the last line of the governing board’s ethics policy says it all: “Remember always that a board member's first and greatest concern must be the educational welfare of the students attending the public schools.”
We daresay, it’s the golden rule.
Brenda Damm-Morreim: homeowner in Gilbert; former GPS employee; former Gilbert Education Foundation (GEF) board member; parent of two GPS graduates; 20 years as a volunteer, activist, and in leadership of multiple GPS education committees, parent-groups, bond and override committees
Dr. Adelaida Severson, Ph.D.: Gilbert homeowner and parent of GPS students; president and CEO of Bushtex, a Gilbert satellite communications firm; current president of GEF; former GPS board member; member of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce; extensive community and volunteer involvement
Barb Dwyer: Gilbert homeowner and parent of four GPS graduates; past Executive Director of the Gilbert Education Foundation; co-founder of V-Net, the Gilbert Volunteer Network; extensive education leadership, activism, volunteerism