Breaking Records

In The Final Weeks Of The Recall Campaign, Incumbents Use Student Files To Boost Their Campaigns.

GARY WOODARD, Virginia Houston and Richard Scott -- the ruling party of the Amphitheater School District Governing Board -- desperately want to keep their seats.

In the face of a May 16 recall, the three have kicked: in Pima County Superior Court, they tried and failed three times to get Judge John F. Kelly to stop the election even after early and absentee voting had begun.

They have begged: like petulant children, the three turned to the state Supreme Court to stop the election and to paddle Judge Kelly. The justices wisely declined to hear it.

They have screamed: using some current and former Amphi administrators and (to the horror of parents they have already alienated) the student and parent records Woodard bought from the district for a mere $65, the three now are in direct contact with a bulk of Amphi's 63,000 voters.

"They never cease to amaze me," says Ramona Johnston, chair of the group Parents As Children's Advocates that brought the recall. "Every time I think that it's the last straw they pull something else out that's even more devious. And it gets more underhanded and unconscionable each time they do it. This is not about an election anymore. It is about a complete disregard for the people they represent and for the children."

Woodard, Houston and Scott declined to be interviewed.

In the daily press, Woodard has defended the action as appropriate campaigning with what he and Todd Jaeger, a staunch majority ally who is the district's legal counsel, say were public records.

Johnston, speaking for a number of recall supporters, saw it in a completely different light.

"A child pornographer, for instance, could wind up with a shopping list of children, knowing their addresses, names, ages, parents' names, etc., and even publish this information on the Internet," Johnston said soon after the release was disclosed.

For Diana Boros, the Amphi parent who faced repeated harassment from the majority and district officials for her long but successful drive for a open call during board meetings, the use of student records for campaigning seems a violation of privacy laws.

Students and parents are entitled to an expectation of privacy through the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Also known as the Buckley Amendment, this is the same law that protects the University of Arizona athletes who bomb in the classroom.

"This has opened it up so large. Any pervert can walk in and get this now," Boros said.

Woodard, Houston and Scott hope the campaign letters sent will rescue them from Johnston and her troops, who forced the recall with pinpoint accuracy. Woodard faces Mary Schuh, a longtime government watchdog; Houston faces Mike Prout, a spaceflight project manager at the University of Arizona; and Scott faces Kent Barrabee, who teaches education courses at Pima Community College.

In interviews he grants to the dailies, Woodard further diminishes the significance of his records purchase by saying the only people who are complaining are his political opponents. Boros is managing Schuh's campaign.

The letters, including one from Canyon Del Oro Principal Richard Evers, began April 27. Woodard, however, did not report the $65 expense on his campaign finance report that was due May 4 and covers the period from January 1 through April 26.

Boros rattled Jaeger's cage when she heard about Woodard's purchase and relays this:

"He told me that it was OK to release the information and that the district can violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act," Boros says.

Districts like Amphi must set policies to adhere to the student privacy law, which also has been adopted as state law.

Students and parents are given notices to sign if they do not want directory information released.

"Directory Information does not include confidential record such as the student's address and telephone number, test scorse, grades, transcripts, evaluations, discipline, etc.," the Amphi form says.

Jaeger could not be reached for comment. According to Boros, a pleasant person who works to raise civility even with those who oppose her, Jaeger said the form included a "typo" with the word "not."

Boros called the state Department of Education and the Attorney General's Office to seek answers about the data Woodard bought.

Laura Penny, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, says she also forwarded the concerns of Amphi parents on to the Attorney General's Office.

At best, Penny says, Amphi's consent forms conflict with its policy on the release of such information.

"The district gets to decide what is 'directory information,' " Penny says. but once it is decided, the policy must be adhered to.

As to Woodard's use, to boost his political campaign and those of Houston and Scott, Penny says: "There are some questions here. It is not for me to determine; I am not an attorney."

The release of the student and parent information culminated a four-year battle the majority has waged against insurgents Nancy Young Wright, elected in 1996, and Ken Smith, elected in 1998.

Wright and Smith sent separate letters seeking investigations. Wright sent letters to Attorney General Janet Napolitano as well as the U.S. Department of Education. Smith sent one to Linda Arzoumanian, the appointed county Superintendent of Schools.

Wright said she believes the sale by Amphi of mailing lists of student and parents names for a political campaign may have violated state and federal laws as well as Amphi policy. She said Woodard's request for the information "did not appear to meet the criteria" established for release of such information.

"I have had numerous calls from parents and citizens who are deeply concerned about the information being used by pedophiles and for retribution on individuals," Wright said in her letter to Napolitano. "As a parent, I feel no parent should have to worry that their child's safety will be compromised by their own school district by actions such as this."

She and Smith also outlined concerns that, despite Woodard's reported $65 payment for the data, district resources were used to aid political campaigns.

WHAT WOODARD BOUGHT is essential to any campaign, experts say. And he probably got a bargain because costs can increase depending on the specificity of voter lists.

Jan Lesher, a longtime political consultant who has run school board candidates as well as a number of candidates for other offices, says voter lists are a necessity particularly for low-budget campaigns that must target the most interested voters.

Costs for such lists vary upon size and how they are to be customized for a particular race, says Lesher, whose comments are echoed by County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, a Democrat, says her office must provide voter lists to recognized political parties -- the Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. Cost to others for the county list is $400. The political parties charge anywhere from $100 to $200.

No action is expected from the County Attorney's Office. Chief Deputy Mary Judge Ryan, busy with her Democratic campaign for Congress in Arizona's District 5, said she had no knowledge of the Amphi records issue and complaints. And Paula Wilk, the deputy county attorney who handles school and elections matters, said flatly that the issue is one for the school board, not her office, even though the student privacy laws have been adopted by the state.

"I have no clue what's going on here," Wilk said of the Amphi records.

Wilk also was not looking into campaign finance reports filed by Woodard, Houston and Scott even though all three managed to leave off payments for signs they put up well before the April 26 finance report cutoff date, as well as Woodard's $65 expenditure for the Amphi records disk.

The three also did not report any payments to lawyers Bruce Heurlin and Cyndy Valdez, who failed three times in Superior Court and once at the state Supreme Court to halt the recall election.

Such work and expenses certainly were designed to influence the outcome of the election -- indeed, to preserve their political jobs by suspending the recall election -- yet the finance reports show no payment or debt. Other candidates for Tucson and county offices have reported legal expenses in their campaign finance reports for such challenges. And a cursory look at state law shows no exemption for such expenses. And if they are made personally, those expenses must still be reported.

Woodard reported no expenditures and $500 in contributions from four people: $150 from city Magistrate Barbara Sattler; $150 from UA law professor Kenny Hegland; $100 from "media specialist" Catalina Spencer; and $100 from Tucson Unified School District teacher Margaret Shafer.

Houston and Scott each filed statements swearing they had no political activity for the period.

On the other side, Schuh, in a difficult-to-read report, claimed $2,843 in available funds, including $1,325 from her own pocket. Prout reported $1,266 in funds that included $941 in loans he made and $1,152 in expenses. Barrabee reported $1,620 in total funds and $1,121 in expenses. The next report, for the period April 27 through June 5, is due June 15.

Smith holds out little hope for action by Arzoumanian or the County Attorney's Office, both of whom have been after Smith in Superior Court, trying to oust him from the board because his wife, a participant in Amphi's early retirement program, must work 20 days a year for Amphi. State law forbids school board members from holding office when spouses work for the district. Smith and his lawyers have argued since November that his wife is not an employee.

Smith is awaiting a decision by Judge Kenneth Lee. His case, according to his lawyers Bill Risner and Anthony Ching, was bolstered by an Attorney General's opinion last week that clarified the law on school districts' early retirement programs.

Wilk disagrees and says the case is off point.

"It is not just a red herring," Wilk says, "it is vibrantly scarlet."

Nonetheless, Smith's attorneys say the opinion cuts in his favor because Amphi's program was in place before and based on previous opinions. It clearly states that early retirees are no longer employees and that they give up that right as a condition of participation. And it spells out that the benefits early retirees, such as Smith's wife, receive are "based on past service and a forfeiture of employment rights, which are valuable consideration."

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