Voters from Gilbert and the surrounding area had an opportunity to meet candidates vying to represent the two local school boards during a special forum at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts on June 5.
Hosted by the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, the event brought together four candidates apiece from the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board election and the Higley Unified School District Governing Board race to meet with voters and discuss multiple topics on stage.
Representing Gilbert in the event were incumbent Jill Humpherys, Reed Carr, Charles Santa Cruz and Ron Bellus, who discussed a multitude of topics including their thoughts on a potential override attempt. Gilbert Public Schools made an attempt to pass a 6.6 percent override in 2013, but voters shot it down by approximately 1,000 votes. The board has discussed making a second attempt and is expected to vote on the decision June 10.
Carr and Santa Cruz both stated their support for a second override attempt, citing a need to increase pay for teachers and support staff to ensure they don’t leave the district. Humpherys said she couldn’t state one way or the other because she still had to vote on the issue, although she said the district needs more funding, as its lost $26 million in funding since 2009.
Bellus said he preferred to avoid going to voters to ask for overrides repeatedly and wanted to find areas to cut from away from classrooms, although he didn’t expect too much traction for an override.
“I think it’s pretty clear there’s not going to be one. It’s probably going to fail 3-2,” he said.
Another issue of note concerned educational standards involving Common Core, which the state has implemented. The standards have proven controversial, with state legislators speaking out against the new standards along with the proposed assessment used to test them. The state eventually decided to step away from joining the multi-state consortiums that take the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, exam.
Humpherys strongly supported the Common Core standards, saying students have started to think more globally than they had prior to the implementation. She also stated a preference for local control on curriculum, but disagreed with the move away from PARCC.
“I think it’d be nice to compare if we’re educating as well as other states,” she said.
Carr said he disliked the roll out of the standards but offered an overall approval for them, and said the district’s obligation is to exceed the standards set for it. Santa Cruz voiced his support for AP and Pre-AP curriculum to challenge students, while Bellus cited his approval for a dual-enrollment program in which students can graduate high school with an associate’s degree.
Higley’s portion featured discussion from incumbent Venessa Whitener, Rebecca Jarman, Michelle Rigby and Michelle Anderson. Much of their portion featured ideas about how to improve the district’s relationship with the community and making the board itself appear more approachable. Whitener said doing so could improve the district’s ability to explain bonds and overrides to its constituents as Higley attempts to compensate for anticipated budget cuts. The district failed to pass a 10 percent override last fall, although voters did approve a $70.5 million bond for various upgrade projects.
Jarman, however, said the district’s budget isn’t limited to just bonds and overrides, and said Higley could reduce the administrative budget instead.
“Maybe we should consider funding the district from the classroom up instead of administration down,” she said.
Rigby and Anderson shared a desire to retain the district’s teachers, with Anderson adding maintaining consistency is important given the flexibilities students have in their education.
“We’re in a new age … parents and students get to choose where they go to school,” she said.
The candidates also wanted more control of the education standards, as Jarman said parents should have an opportunity to offer their input on curriculum. Whitener agreed with Jarman, but added the district does have its locally based curriculum to meet the state standards.
Anderson said there’s a need for realistic and attainable standards and claimed the district is stressing students out by over-emphasizing AP courses. Rigby added the high standards are good, but they can be too much for students to attain.
“I think some students aren’t made for school and we have to find that balance.”