Amphi Theatrics

Support The Challenger In The Amphitheater Board Contest.

By Jim Nintzel

THE PYGMY OWL is the least of the Amphitheater School District's problems.

The real problem is a Governing Board that has grown contemptuous of the public it's supposed to serve. The ringleaders of this disgraceful school board are Mike Bernal and Gary Woodard. Both are up for re-election this year; neither deserves your vote.

They're being challenged by just one candidate, UA Professor Emeritus Ken Smith. The 66-year-old Smith is both an experienced educator and administrator, having taught at every level from elementary school to college. He would bring some sanity to the maniacal Amphi Board.

Currents The incumbents, Woodard and Bernal, are running on a record of fiscal responsibility. But the record shows that, while they're tightfisted when it comes to classroom supplies and teachers' pay, they're generous when it comes time to hand out raises to top-level administrators, careless when it comes to overseeing millions of dollars in spending, and foolish when it comes to racking up huge legal bills defending their own lousy decisions.

Two years ago, The Weekly first began investigating Amphi's land deals. The Amphi administration stonewalled our repeated requests for public records, earning itself a Brick Wall Award from the Arizona Press Club, the state's largest association of journalists. But eventually, after we threatened to sue the district, documents began dribbling out that showed a process so slipshod that the district never even bothered to appraise its two largest purchases, which totaled about $2.5 million.

Our investigation led to much-needed changes in Amphi's land-acquisition policies--but for district taxpayers, it was too late. One of the parcels purchased by the district turned out to be on the edge of critical habitat for the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl. The district decided to build a high school there anyway, setting the stage for a legal battle that continues today. Estimates of legal and other costs hover somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.

Hardly a record of fiscal responsibility.

Woodard and Bernal also say they support open communication--another stretch of the truth. Just ask Diana Boros, the mother of three kids in the district. Having seen the way district resources seemed to be going toward the administration rather than the classroom, Boros became active in a group called Students First. She began lobbying the Board to restore a basic right citizens in every other school district in the Tucson area enjoy: The chance to address the Board in an open call-to-the-audience. Under the current system, citizens can comment only on agenda items. And that agenda is tightly controlled--only the board president and Superintendent Bob "Bubba" Smith can put a topic on the agenda.

Boros collected hundreds of signatures from parents who supported call-to-the-audience and met with Bernal and Woodard to discuss the issue. Bernal said he backed call-to-the-audience, while Woodard said he would never support the idea. But Bernal's "support" didn't translate into any kind of action--he stalled Boros for months while promising to address her concerns.

When Bernal finally agreed to put the issue on the agenda, Boros--at her own expense--went to the trouble of mailing letters to the folks who had signed the petitions so they could attend the meeting. One day before the meeting, however, she got a letter from Bernal informing her the issue had been postponed yet again.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, Bernal and Woodard voted with the majority of the Board to "streamline" Amphi's policies, eliminating any mention of call-to-the-audience.

More recently, Boros and her group worked to come up with an alternative site to that new high school that remains tied up in court. When the group delivered a plan to the Board, it thanked them for their efforts--and then ignored their suggestions.

Bernal and Woodard realize they're in deep trouble. They've surrounded themselves with a crew of Oro Valley Stepford Wives who have adorned themselves with yellow ribbons to support the Board's lousy decisions. And their campaign for re-election hasn't hesitated to misuse district resources for campaign purposes. Bernal and Woodard are distributing a flyer that uses portraits paid for by district taxpayers; worse, it lists their district-designed web pages as official campaign sites.

Just weeks ago, one of the Amphi administrators, Associate Superintendent Katie Frey (the same Katie Frey who didn't think it necessary to do appraisals for $2.5 million worth of land deals) had Amphi's custodial staff--on staff time--tear down some of challenger Ken Smith's signs because she felt they were too close to schools.

Frey has contributed at least $100 to both Bernal and Woodard. But then, administrators seem fond--or perhaps afraid--of the incumbents. Virtually all of their campaign dollars have come from present and former Amphi administrators and board members.

We're disgusted with the reprehensible behavior of Mike Bernal and Gary Woodard. And we're not the only ones to feel this way: The Tucson Citizen recently wrote in an editorial: "If there is an elected body more dysfunctional and less responsive than the board of Amphitheater Public Schools, it has escaped our attention." That's a real trick when you're up against competition like the Arizona Legislature, the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the various local city and town councils and the TUSD Board.

Taxpayers in the Amphi School District need to take back their Board. Vote for Ken Smith--and only Ken Smith--on Election Day. TW

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