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Mixed Message 

On his way out, a letter from the former ASDB board chair supports the superintendent and only adds salt to community's wounds

Two days after Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind board chairman Bernhardt Jones was replaced along with four other board members by Gov. Jan Brewer, Jones responded with a letter offering a few suggestions and opinions that's only further angered some ASDB parents who worked to get rid of him.

In April, parents, students and some faculty at both campuses in Tucson and Phoenix organized a website (asdbreports.com) and protests to communicate their concerns about current Superintendent Robert Hill, as well as what they alledged is a professional conflict between Hill and Jones. They called for Jones and Hill to step down (See "Protesting Disaster," May 2, 2013).

"Please be aware, however, that it will not matter to some what the Board decides moving forward. They will be angry anyway," Jones wrote in a May 24 letter addressed to the board and the superintendent. "This is what fuels them. They have to have an enemy to give them purpose."

One area of concern shared with the Tucson Weekly from some parents and faculty was that all existing board members of the school, who are mostly appointed by the governor, were serving on expired terms.

While Jones advised the remaining board on those who were angry and spoke out about ASDB troubles, the governor was possibly paying attention.

On May 22, Brewer announced that she had chosen five new board members to replace Jones, as well as Ray Mungaray from the Governor's Council on Blindness and Visual Impairment; Mary Lamer, a Superintendent of Public Instruction designee; and Clifford Rowley, an appointive member.

"The (ASDB) fulfills a critical mission by educating students with unique and specialized needs. So, it has been troubling to see allegations of mismanagement made against ASDB and its leaders. While inquiries continue, I conducted a lengthy and deliberative process to replace board members whose terms had expired. I am confident the five new members I'm naming today will help give the institution the 'fresh start' it needs," Brewer said in a statement released by her office.

"These new members have outstanding qualifications from across the deaf and blind community. Most important, they are committed to making certain ASDB students are prepared with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed after graduation."

In the governor's press release it was confirmed that each term for the eight governor-appointed seats had expired. Three current members will continue to serve as "holdover appointments": Sherri Collins who represents the Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Orlenda Roberts who acts as the board's school district employee who works with sensory-impaired pupils; and Michael Williams, who serves as a public member (See "Investigation Maneuvers," May 9, 2013).

The new board members are Kathy Jankowski, a former dean with the Laurent Clerk National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University; Taralynn Petrites, lead faculty at Pima Community College's American Sign Language and Interpreter Training department; Elaine Baldridge, former director of Children's Services for the Foundation for Blind Children; Michael Gordon, executive director of the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired; and Dr. Mark Syms, otologist with the Arizona Ear Center.

In Jones' letter he reiterated that the state Attorney General's office and Utah State University, his employer, investigated an alleged conflict of interest of an interpreting certification testing business run by Hill and Jones in which testing is also done at the ASDB campus.

"They have both found that there is not, and never was, a conflict of interest. I have received the findings from USU and expect the findings from the AG's office next week," he wrote.

Jones also stood up one last time for Hill, who continues to receive pressure to resign. In his letter, the former chairman outlines past support given to the superintendent by board member Collins, then questioned an upcoming special board meeting "to put the superintendent on administrative leave?"

"I realize that times change, but this drastic change of Ms. Collins' position seems, at best, disingenuous," he wrote.

If the new board decided to put Hill on administrative leave or replace him, Jones wrote it would be "giving into a mob mentality and encouraging the kind of behavior we witnessed during and after the ASDB Special Board meeting on April 9, 2013. This verbal outburst and the seemingly 'out-of-control' verbal insults will be encouraged unless the board has the courage to continue the improvement of the schools."

Rob Voreck, a hearing parent of an ASDB student at the Phoenix campus, told the Weekly that he was only angered more when he read Jones' letter.

"He wrote that this is not a deaf vs. hearing issue, but then he goes on to say the whole protest was only a few select individuals with a cause. It's the same language Hill used in a memo saying the protests were from an extreme element of the deaf community rather than (people with legitimate concerns)," Voreck said.

"No this isn't about a hearing vs. deaf issue, but an incompetent administrator. If this was happening at a hearing school district there's no question in my mind Hill would have been gone a long time ago."

Voreck said there's talk about the board calling a special board meeting, but first the new board members need to be formally sworn in and new officers must be elected, which is expected to happen the last meeting in June.

Alan Amann, Tucson ASDB parent and husband to the school's executive director and principal Nancy Amann who was put on administrative leave by Jones, told the Weekly that Jones' letter only confirms he was unfit to serve, especially as board president.

"That letter exposes to public view Jones' total inability or refusal to consider board matters fairly and impartially, especially those pertaining to Hill. Indeed, Jones goes so far as to repeatedly distort and mischaracterize the real facts and issues caused by Hill's inept and abusive conduct as superintendent. Despite overwhelming evidence of Hill's incompetence, Jones has continually placed his interests over those of ASDB and its staff and students. This letter is simply more of the same."

However, with Jones gone, it's a good time for the new board to repair the damage done by Hill and Jones, Amann said, "... which must start, first and foremost, with a fair and impartial assessment of Hill's conduct and performance as superintendent and holding him accountable as deserved."

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