By Michelle Reese, TribuneEast Valley Tribune
The Gilbert Unified School District governing board could have a more conservative majority come January if voting result trends stay in place.
As of Friday afternoon, conservative newcomers Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin were leading in votes, along with current board member Lily Tram, for three four-year seats on the board. Current board president EJ Anderson was less than 300 votes behind Colvin for that final spot.
Current school board member Staci Burk, another strong conservative who voted against the district’s call for an override renewal and the district’s current budget earlier this year, has two more years on her term.
Jill Humphreys, in unofficial results, won a two-year seat over Eric Johnson.
If the results stay the same with Smith and Colvin, the board’s majority philosophy will shift from what it is today. Smith is listed as a member of the Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots. Colvin was endorsed by the Conservative School Board Members Association in his bid for Gilbert’s board.
During governing board meetings the last few months, Smith, Colvin and Burk have expressed dismay over what they call a lack of financial transparency and district spending patterns.
With the loss of the override, one of the first major actions the new governing board will have to undertake is examination of the budget. The override provided about $17 million annually to the district. Beginning next fiscal year, the district will lose one-third of the override.
That means at least $5.8 million will have to be cut for the 2013-14 school year. That will come on top of more than $30 million in cuts the district has undergone since the state economic crisis began.
Smith pointed to the need to examine the district’s “spending habits” in light of the override loss and the failure of Proposition 204 — which would have made permanent a one-cent state sales tax for education funding.
“School districts really need to examine their spending habits and align their spending habits much more with what the rest of the community is experiencing where there’s been loss of income and loss of jobs,” Smith said in an interview Friday.
She said she wants to avoid cuts to the classroom, “the last thing on the list that I would consider as a cost-cutting measure.”
“We really need to examine the entire model of what’s going on in Gilbert schools and the structure. We need to become a leaner meaner machine that puts students first,” she said.
Colvin, who did not want to declare a victory given the closeness of the race, did talk about what the new governing board would face, no matter the make-up, and why he ran.
“Like a lot of people who end up on the board, I was recruited to run. There was a concern about moving the board in a conservative direction that more closely represents the values in the community. We’re a community that sent Andy Biggs to the Legislature … We felt we needed a school board that would more accurately reflect the community,” he said.
Colvin and Smith both noted a desire to move the district to a more “pro-American, pro-family” point of view. Smith said she is concerned about curriculum in place in the high schools. Colvin said the community needs to be given more information about spending before the board goes for another override.
Humphreys hopes to see changes in the district over the next two years on the board.
“A change in the district that I will work for is a more open, collaborative decision-making process where the community has opportunities for input while alternatives are on the table,” Humphreys said.
Superintendent Dave Allison said, “There’s always a learning curve” when new members are seated onto a board.
“It’s a complex job being a school board member, especially for the fifth largest in Arizona and one that excels in quality education and is an ‘A’ district,” he said. “I want to tell the governing board we want to strive to continue that educational quality that Gilbert is known for. I want to work with the board in regards to that.”
When asked about the philosophical differences between the new board members, Allison said: “I’m hoping the board members ran for the board with the idea of doing the very best for our students. Any ideology, I hope, is put aside in regards for that.”