The Daily Agenda: Watch out for school boards
You can't say we didn't warn you ... DCS nominee gives his first interview after leaving ... And the inevitable walk-back on that election hearing.
Another local school district superintendent was replaced this week, one of several in the past year in Arizona.
This time, it’s not clear why the Cave Creek Unified School District named a new acting superintendent or why the previous one went on a leave of absence, the Republic’s Renata Cló reports.
In other recent instances, local boards staffed with new, more partisan members have gone after their superintendents seeking to fire them over issues that caught fire during the pandemic, like COVID-19 mitigation or equity policies. In some instances, the public doesn’t get a good explanation into why a superintendent was let go.
The Casa Grande Union High School District removed a superintendent in February. Dysart Unified School District’s superintendent resigned last year after ongoing tensions with the board.
Scottsdale has become the epicenter for school board dustups. Superintendent Scott Menzel faced calls for his resignation and a potential ouster by a couple board members after comments he made about racism in 2019 ricocheted around the internet, including some news clips on Fox News. A few state lawmakers — Reps. Joseph Chaplik and Alexander Kolodin and Sen. John Kavanagh — wanted Menzel removed from his role.
Parents instead rallied on Menzel’s behalf and spoke out in support of him at a February board meeting. But it wasn’t the first school board drama for Scottsdale, and we doubt it’ll be the last.
It’s rare for someone to run for office because they believe a school board (or a city council or a Legislature) is running well. Instead, people typically run for office because they think things aren’t working and that they can fix them. That often means new members seek big changes, like overhauling a district’s leadership.
In that sense, it’s not unexpected to see school boards, stacked with new members on a mission to change things, take actions against top administrators. Getting rid of a superintendent is just one example of local district upheavals.
A single member of a board doesn’t hold much power on their own, so sometimes the most they can muster is bringing some friends to speak at board meetings and using their bully pulpits. Other times, they can amass power by finding or recruiting like-minded members, giving them the ability to vote against superintendents or install the people they want to run schools.
But there’s a different tenor to school board drama these days. The boards, while technically nonpartisan, have grown much more partisan. They serve as microcosms of national politics during this time of hyperpolarization.
School boards took on much more public prominence after the pandemic, too. Parents enraged by COVID-19 measures and critical race theory (not taught in Arizona’s K-12 schools) have mobilized at the most local level.
We warned before the 2022 elections that school boards would be the new front for partisan politics, that hot-button culture wars and national rhetoric would become the norm for these once-quiet elected bodies.
We’re now seeing just what that can look like, from heated board meetings with national political actors to attempts to oust the people who run local schools. It can only spiral out more from here.
Reputational damage: ProPublica’s Eli Hager talked with Matthew Stewart, Gov. Katie Hobbs’ nominee to run the Department of Child Safety, about why he was asked to step down from the role and what happened at the agency. Hager spoke to current and former DCS employees who said the claims about Stewart circulated by Arizona Sen. Jake Hoffman were “unfounded.” Stewart defended his decision to let several top employees go as a way to change the agency’s culture. The Governor’s Office said any claims by Hoffman of anti-LBGTQ bias in firing those employees was “baseless” and that Stewart instead didn’t have the ability to run a large agency and make the changes he wanted.
“‘I wanted to have the opportunity to go through [the confirmation process] and defend myself,’ Stewart said, adding that dismissing him was a ‘way for the governor to stay safe,’” Hager writes.
A new AG in town: Rachel talked with Attorney General Kris Mayes for The Guardian to hear what she has planned for election protection and prosecution. Mayes has already released records her predecessor wouldn’t about the 2020 election and repurposed the election integrity unit to focus on voting rights and elections officials’ safety.
Scanned before work: After a detention officer was arrested for trying to bring drugs into county jails, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone announced a plan to make jail employees go through scanners on their way into work, the Republic’s Sasha Hupka reports. The move also comes as the county is seeing more fentanyl overdoses in its jails.
The end of the legal road: The U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear an Arizona case that sought to make jurors’ names public, which keeps in place an Arizona Supreme Court ruling that jurors are private unless judges decide to make them public, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports. The case was brought by David Morgan, a Cochise County publisher, and Terri Jo Neff of the Arizona Daily Independent, stemming from recent criminal trials in Cochise.
Demand is high: Planned Parenthood Arizona will start offering vasectomies at its Tucson location today, with plans to expand the services to other locations, the Republic’s Stephanie Innes reports. Patients have requested the procedure be available at clinics after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the organization said, as a form of birth control and a way for men to have a more active role in preventing pregnancy.
Meet the new president: The Deseret News’ Ethan Bauer profiles new Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren, following along as the youngest president of the Nation makes his case for ways to improve infrastructure, education and the economy. He ran a campaign on his own terms, beating out the incumbent, Jonathan Nez, but now faces the more challenging task of actually making good on his campaign promises.
Freedom schools aren’t free: Former gubernatorial candidate and Regent Karrin Taylor Robson and academic Steven McGuire defend Arizona State University’s “freedom school,” the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, as a leader in promoting civic education in a Republic op-ed. The writers ding Hobbs for wanting to eliminate special funding for the school and instead allocate it to the university overall.
A trip to DC: Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and Dr. Robert Trenschel of the Yuma Regional Medical Center spoke to the U.S. House’s Homeland Security Committee, telling the members that local entities in the borderlands aren’t equipped to handle the amount of migrants coming into Arizona from the U.S.-Mexico border, Cronkite News’ Alexis Waiss reports.
An eye on Tempe: Tempe and Mesa will study whether it makes sense to expand Tempe’s new streetcar system into Mesa to serve transportation needs there, the Republic’s Maritza Dominguez and Sam Kmack report. Separately, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods detailed the city’s plans for increasing affordable housing, AZFamily’s Colton Shone reports.
Again?: Arizona Sen. Sonny Borrelli was involved in a second, previously unreported incident of alleged domestic violence against his former wife more than 20 years ago, according to records that the DC-based Campaign for Accountability dug up and sent to the AG’s office, claiming it’s evidence he might have perjured himself in court. The Daily Beast notes that besides the previously reported 2004 incident, he also pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge in 2001 and called police on his wife in 2004, claiming she attacked him with a knife. Police who responded later found his wife in a an emergency room bed covered with blood and in need of stitches. They said the evidence “does not match with [Borrelli’s] story.”
“The 2004 domestic violence incident never saw the inside of a courtroom. The case exceeded its statute of limitations while waiting for a prosecutor, court records show,” the Daily Beast writes.
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