Total Recall

Amphi Board Majority Faces A Revolution Sparked By Angry Constituents.

AMPHITHEATER School District's opposition party scored a major victory by slim margins as the Pima County Recorder's Office ruled a parents' group collected enough signatures to force a recall of the Amphi board majority, including President Gary Woodard, Richard Scott and Virginia Houston.

"We're feeling really good, but the job is only beginning," said Ramona Johnston, chair of Parents as Children's Advocates, the group that started its 120-day recall petition drive last August.

Johnston and her group were notified Saturday that petitions exceeded the threshold for Woodard, Houston and Scott, all multi-term members of the Board of the 16,000-student district.

The recall group, Johnston said, was particularly gratified to receive support from throughout the district, which stretches from Grant Road on the south to the Pinal County line.

"People talk about how this was started in the northern part of the district and it was," Johnston said. "This majority has done everything to divide and conquer. We all were able to look at the whole district and do this united. Our needs have been ignored for so long. The southern part has its issues, the middle has its issues and the northern part has its issues."

The recall proceeds on slim margins, a testament to the accurate petition work that did not provide for big cushions for the valid signatures of registered Amphi voters. For each of the majority members, 5,042 signatures were needed. The Recorder's Office, which received the petitions on December 23, verified 5,103 for Woodard, 5,104 for Scott and 5,095 for Houston. Validity Accuracy ranged from a low of 88.3 percent on the 5,778 signatures collected against Woodard to 89 percent of the 5,729 collected against Scott. The petitions against Houston were 88.9 percent valid.

Conversely, the cushion in the Houston petitions was just 53 signatures or 1 percent; 61 over for Woodard, or 1.2 percent; and 62 for Scott, also 1.2 percent.

The recall group's success in collecting sufficient signatures did not immediately impress Woodard, who initially joined the Amphi Board by appointment.

"I am not shaken," said Woodard, who was rebuffed in his attempt for an appointment to the City Council nine years ago.

"I don't see that there's any clear message in it," Woodard said.

The success by the recall group, Woodard said, shows only what any group of determined people could do.

Woodard gave his own mixed messages upon getting confirmation that the Recorder's Office had certified the requisite signatures. In a radio interview he asserted that he would challenge the recall petitions. He backed off that later in an interview with The Weekly, but also added that he was not foreclosing a legal challenge. He said he had not retained a lawyer.

Scott did not return a call and calls to Houston were unavailing.

The three have angered opponents and spurred the election victories of reformers Nancy Young Wright in 1996 and Ken Smith in 1998. Besides the enormous and protracted battles over location and construction of the district's third high school -- to alleviate wildly overcrowded Canyon del Oro High School -- the Board's majority was paralyzed from resolving basic agenda reform to let citizens speak at a call to the audience.

Woodard said his majority and that of former President Mike Bernal, a loser in the 1998 election, was unfairly criticized on the call-to-the-audience issue because the Amphi Board allows public testimony on each agenda item. While that is far superior to the closed approach used by the Tucson Unified School District Board, the push for call to the audience was rooted in the fact that the majority controlled the agenda and would not let Young Wright or other perceived opponents the courtesy to place items on the agenda.

Once notified of the petition certification, Woodard, Houston and Scott have five days to resign their seats or face election that could be scheduled for May 16, to coincide with a city bond election and the Oro Valley election.

Among those who are touted as leading replacements is Diana Boros, who struggled for reform including a call to the audience.

The terms for Houston and Scott expire at the end of the year -- regular elections for those seats are in November. Woodard's term ends at the end of 2002.

Young Wright said she hopes that the majority members, not immune from flouting the law, don't attempt to use taxpayer funds for any part of their fight to retain their seats -- including legal fees.

Smith, meanwhile, is awaiting continuation of his court battle to keep his seat. He is under attack by Amphi administration and district lawyers as well as the County School Superintendent's Office and County Attorney's Office, who all contend that he sacrificed his seat because his wife is a participant in the Amphi early retirement program. Although she retired, she is required to work 20 days a year for up to 10 years. State law forbids school board members from having spouses on the school district payroll.

That hearing resumes March 27 before Judge Kenneth Lee in Pima County Superior Court.

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