A state senator has introduced a bill to prohibit public school districts from using taxpayer dollars to pay for membership in a state or national school board association.
Current state law allows a school district governing board to budget and spend funds for membership in an association of school districts within Arizona. But a school district board is not permitted to spend taxpayers’ dollars to join an association which attempts to influence the outcome of an election.
“The Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) has a consistent pattern of lobbying with a clear bias,” Sen. Kelly Townsend (R-LD16) said Tuesday. “This constitutes political activity and is often against the very taxpayers that funded them.”
ASBA “should be serving the parents, and not working hard against them,” Townsend added.
As a result, Townsend is sponsoring Senate Bill 1011, which would still allow a school district to join ASBA or another state association, as long as the membership dues are not paid by taxpayer funds. That leaves ASBA the option, Townsend suggested, of pursuing 501(c)(4) tax exempt status so it can fundraise for operational money “without relying on the taxpayer.”
SB1011 passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday via a 5-3 partisan vote.
The Arizona Association of County School Superintendents has come out against Townsend’s bill, as has the Arizona School Administrators Association. Among those supporting SB1011 include the Center for Arizona Policy and Diane Douglas, who served as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction from 2015-2018.
School boards and associations have come under scrutiny the last two years due to COVID-19 protocols which have frequently pitted educators and administrators against the wishes of parents. It has led to a groundswell of parental interest in school operations and curriculum, as well as in how school boards spend funds.
Last September, the National School Boards Association got sideways with many school district governing boards and parents after sending a letter to President Joe Biden complaining about purported threatening and aggressive behavior on the part of parents toward school board members.
NSBA claimed such actions amounted to domestic terrorism which warranted federal law enforcement intervention. The fallout led several state school board associations to withdraw from NSBA.
And in Arizona, it resulted in the creation last year of the Arizona Coalition of School Board as an alternative to ASBA, which is still a member of NSBA.
Townsend recently requested records from ASBA about its expenditures for legal fees in connection with any litigation involving the state. She said her intent is to determine whether those expenditures came from dues paid by any Arizona school board.
ASBA did not comply with her public record request, Townsend said.
“I would hate to know the dues this organization receives from school boards are being used to pay attorneys to sue our state and overturn legislation we’re crafting on behalf of these constituents,” she said. “This is completely inappropriate, and I will be looking into whether or not taxpayer money has been used in this fashion to undo our laws.”
Not all attendees were masked up at the Arizona School Boards Association’s (ASBA) Annual Conference last week, despite having a mask mandate in place. ASBA fought for local school districts to be able to establish mask mandates; they joined a lawsuit that prevailed against Governor Doug Ducey’s mask mandate ban.
Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams was one leader spotted maskless during the Superintendents Division Business Meeting. In addition to ASBA’s conference mandate, most of Williams’ school districts have mask mandates in place for their students: Ajo Unified, Amphitheater Unified, Catalina Foothills Unified, Flowing Wells Unified, Sunnyside Unified School District, Tanque Verde Unified, and Tucson Unified.
A number of school officials were also maskless as they recorded testimonies for ASBA. One of them was Red Mesa Unified School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Amy Fuller, former interim superintendent for Scottsdale Unified School District. Fuller’s district currently requires face masks at all times indoors.
Unlike the county superintendent, Tanque Verde Unified Governing Board Member Anne Velosa wore a mask for her testimony.
AZ Free Newsreported in September that a number of attendees at an ASBA conference also didn’t mask up. ASBA spokespersons explained that they had a loosely enforced mask mandate in place, and that the individuals were from various districts with different beliefs on masking.
Parents have voiced concerns about their children’s social development, or the quality of education for those with special needs or disabilities. Current experts on the controversial social-emotional learning (SEL) admit that they don’t have complete studies on the impact of masking on children’s development. However, they speculated that educators could adjust somehow to work around the masks. Feasible solutions haven’t been presented for students who rely on seeing mouths to learn, such as deaf or hearing-impaired students — though some suggest clear masks, those present their own issues like fogging up.
Due to the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) not withdrawing from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) over its controversial letter asking the Biden Administration to investigate parent and community opposition as domestic terrorists, Dysart Unified School District (DUSD) Governing Board voted last week to leave the association.
The board was split on the decision, 3-2. President Dawn Densmore issued the motion, and Clerk Christine Pritchard seconded. Board member Chrystal Chaffin joined Densmore and Pritchard in voting to leave ASBA. The remaining two board members, Traci Sawyer-Sinkbeil and Jo Grant, dissented.
Superintendent Quinn Kellis said that about three out of every 30 sample policies are based on opinion rather than statute. Densmore emphasized that it wasn’t the quantity that concerned her — it was the quality of those few opinion-based policies.
“Except for the part where they redline the policy about not teaching that you’re biased because you’re a certain race, gender, sex, you know, ASBA recommends we get rid of that,” said Densmore. “It’s just things like that that have me concerned about ASBA.”
Pritchard said that the people once a part of ASBA that made it amazing are no longer there. She described how political ASBA had become since she was elected over 15 years ago.
“I just feel like ASBA has really changed over the years. When I was first elected to the board, it was 2006, I remember going to the ASBA conference in 2006 and it just had a completely different feel,” said Pritchard. “It seems like for an agency or organization that’s supposed to be nonpartisan they are so far one way. And, whether one way’s the right one or one way’s not the right way, the point is that it’s supposed to be nonpartisan. It seems like they’re so politicized and there’s such an agenda and then to not take a stand against NSBA’s action was really disappointing.“I cringe a lot of times when I get their emails because they’re politicized, and I don’t want to be associated with that. And right now we are. It just doesn’t feel good to me.”
Chaffin said that ASBA’s new board member training just complained about “bad bills” passed by the legislature. She said that ASBA pushes certain agendas constantly and doesn’t factor the individual needs of districts.
“I don’t think they reflect our board and our district’s values,” concluded Chaffin.
“And they didn’t stand up for our parents — that’s the biggest piece. And to pay to be part of an organization that stands behind another organization that would make such a blatantly disrespectful comment, I don’t want to be associated with that,” added Pritchard.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel asked the board if anyone had invited ASBA to offer an explanation for not leaving the NSBA. Densmore responded by citing ASBA Executive Director Dr. Sheila Harrison-Williams’ refusal to address the controversy head-on.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel expressed concern that the board’s actions would hurt rather than help their district by cutting out a . She insisted that this was based on a national narrative rather than a local problem.
“We’re worried about Dysart. We shouldn’t be worried about a national narrative,” responded Sawyer-Sinkbiel. “I feel that we are trying to take all the things that we have done and throwing them out with that few percentage [sic] of the bad things. So, I don’t think that we should separate — I do believe we should have ASBA to come out and answer what questions that we do have. Put their feet to the fire. Ask them exactly what is going on.”
Pritchard rebutted that no clarification was necessary based on ASBA’s actions. She assured that DUSD has their own legal services that address their policies, which Kellis confirmed.
“It’s not a misunderstanding where I need them to clarify with me. It’s just a change in their mindset or a change in their organization as a whole. It’s the same type of political agenda and they shouldn’t be that way,” said Pritchard.
Sawyer-Sinkbiel challenged Chaffin on her statement that the board had an attorney. Kellis clarified that they do have prepaid legal through the trust, assigned based on the case.
Pritchard said that statute analysis and policy drafting could be procured. Chaffin asked why the district couldn’t use the money that would’ve gone to ASBA and pay
Sawyer-Sinkbiel challenged Chaffin again, asking who they would hire and if Chaffin was suggesting they not carry out their elected duties of drafting policy. Chaffin responded that she was suggesting that they could hire someone if they needed review of drafted policies or if they needed alerts on legislative changes.
“That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and I’m not comfortable with supporting a lot of ‘ifs,” responded Sawyer-Sinkbiel.
Pritchard challenged Sawyer-Sinkbiel to weigh her pragmatic concerns with ethical concerns.
“What about our integrity? What does that mean?” said Pritchard. “To stay with them when this is who they are just because ‘Well, they can look at our policies,’ and I understand what you’re saying Mrs. Sawyer-Sinkbiel, I’m not saying be willy-nilly, I’m saying they’re not the only organization that can do that job.”
Sawyer-Sinkbiel doubled down after neither Pritchard or Chaffin could name an alternative to ASBA. She said they shouldn’t leave ASBA and instead settle for telling the association what upset DUSD. Sawyer-Sinkbiel insisted that DUSD didn’t know why ASBA decided not to leave NSBA.
Grant offered an explanation of her “no” vote similar to Sawyer-Sinkbiel: insisting that there may be financial troubles ahead if they didn’t plan prior to taking action.
“We just pulled an agenda item questioning a budget item for a department for $40,000 and we asked them to please go back and rework that. Now we’re talking another budget item that is $28,998,” said Grant. “And if we cancel with ASBA, we have no idea how much we’re going to spent on policy support or BoardDocs and it could be more than $28,998. It just seems to me that we should do our homework and come back with okay, BoardDocs is going to cost this amount of money and somebody to do policy support [will cost that much].”
Chaffin countered that integrity was the greater concern at the moment, not logistics. She said that the board has six months to figure out who would fill ASBA’s shoes.
“How long do you want to compromise […] our integrity to be associated with an organization that views parents the way NSBA does, that is very politicized,” said Chaffin. “We talk about, we don’t want our teachers bringing politics into the classroom. Well, this particular organization is flooding our district with tons of their politicized opinions and their views and agendas. It’s a matter of principle to me.”
The back-and-forth between Chaffin and Grant became more intense after that. Grant repeated that she’d like to see the costs before making a decision on ASBA.
“So there’s a price to integrity?” asked Chaffin.
Grant retorted that their decisions as a board have nothing to do with integrity. She also asked who would lobby for DUSD, if not ASBA.
“It has nothing to do with integrity. We talk about taxpayer money — what if the bill comes back at $50,000? I’m just asking the question,” said Grant. “When you walk in this door, we are now school board members. We may have different political opinions outside this room. […] At the end of the day, we have to be supporting public schools.”
Grant also challenged the notion that ASBA is political. She rejected the notion that the association’s emails were political, asking for specific examples. Grant dismissed Densmore’s example of race-based caucuses, insisting that both state and federal governments have race-based caucuses.
Sawyer-Sinkbeil repeated that she felt a personal attack on DUSD would be a more relevant reason to leave ASBA. She disagreed that NSBA’s letter included DUSD parents. Pritchard insinuated that Sawyer-Sinkbeil wasn’t being objective on the matter because of her having served leadership roles within ASBA.
DUSD membership to ASBA lasts through June 2022, making up .25 percent of the district’s operational budget according to the district. ASBA offers policy support and legal insight on legislative changes relative to K-12 education.
The board also approved a resolution related to the decision to leave ASBA. Densmore, Pritchard, and Chaffin voted for it, while Sawyer-Sinkbeil and Grant voted against it. The resolution asserted that parents had the right to parent their children without obstruction or interference from any political entity or government, and that ASBA’s actions weren’t reflective of that statement.
The resolution cited Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s remarks during a testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions at the end of September. Cardona said that parents shouldn’t be the sole authority in their children’s education.
“I believe parents are important stakeholders, but I also believe educators have a role in determining educational programming,” said Cardona.
The resolution also called upon the Arizona legislature to pass a bill strengthening protections for parental rights.
The board’s decision came less than a month after voting to end its relationship with the NSBA.
The Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) held The Equity Event April 21st – 23rd. Among the keynote speakers was the founder and lead facilitator of Social Centric Institute, Calvin Terrell.
ASBA is the primary source for policies adopted by public school governing boards across Arizona. Critical Race Theory is currently being discussed by educators who hope to adopt and implement it into schools statewide.
Many parents and school board members have questioned Critical Race Theory-based curriculum. Those that question the curriculum and disagree with the implementation are being called “toxic,” “evil,” “bigots,” etc., and Terrell says they should be removed and states that those people are creating “whitelash.”
“Whitelash” is a term that Terrell uses to describe people who disagree with what he says or believes.
In his TEDx talk at Phoenix College, Terrell promoted the bizarre Aztec-based mysticism embodied in a creed students were forced to adopt as part of the Mexican American Studies classes in the Tucson Unified School District. Concerned teachers noted that the premise of the creed was one that prompts a student to adopt a collective and or amorphous identify rather than an identify as an individual.
Terrell spoke to school board members at last month’s event about how they can help end the “deification of whiteness and the demonization of non-whiteness.”
Terrell criticizes the media for posting lies or half-truths often does it himself. During the event, he stated, without evidence, that the reason the Irish and Scottish immigrates play bagpipes during police funerals is that when they first immigrated to America to prove themselves to the whites, they became overseers of slaves.
With a quick Google search, that statement can be proven false. Experts say by providing false information like accusing a group of people of being slave overseers can only lead to the dangerous outcome of villainization and dehumanization. A technique used by some of the most heinous regimes known to man.
Terrell told board members “when you can name your part in social sickness, you can identify your role in the remedy. Be part of the healing.”
Terrell spoke freely of eliminating voices from conversation – and schools – that do not comport with his own world view.
When word of Terrell’s statements became public, the ASBA rushed to defend his divisive message and released the following statement:
“ASBA Condemns Racism and Stands Committed to Equity
Public schools have a responsibility to ensure the highest ideals of justice, citizenship, and human dignity are demonstrated and upheld, from the governing board table to the classroom. They must stand committed to leading toward and advocating for more equitable and inclusive educational environments, free of racism, where every student, teacher, staff, parent, and community member is treated with dignity and respect. As an association, we have that responsibility, too, and we take it seriously.
In fact, in June 2020, the ASBA Board of Directors passed a resolution condemning racism and affirming the association’s commitment to equity – the opportunity, access, and inclusion necessary for every student to succeed. The resolution affirmed that “purposeful action against all forms of racism, both individual and organizational, is necessary to dismantle racism.”
Today, an Arizona talk radio host targeted two Black leaders who spoke at our invitation at the ASBA Equity Event. Although the event featured 30 speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and races and tackled the difficult but important subjects of culture, race, and ethnicity and their impact on students and education, these two speakers — who were black — were singled out, maligned and their comments were mischaracterized. As an organization committed to equity and also to being anti-racist, we believe it necessary and appropriate to condemn this.
In addition to being simply wrong, such tactics and portrayals harm all students. When concepts like equity are wrongly defined or misinterpreted, with racist intent or not, it puts up roadblocks to the school board’s essential work of building greater opportunity, access and inclusion so that every student can succeed, regardless of their culture, race, ethnicity, family income, home setting, ability, gender or any other influence or characteristic that can contribute to inequities.
We have never shied away from the fact that the pursuit of greater equity is hard work. It’s part of our core beliefs. Rest assured, we will not shy away from the work itself, either. Arizona’s students are worth it – and they are counting on us.
We have said it before and will continue to say it again. School board members should never feel that they are placing themselves or their families at risk by serving their communities or doing what is right for kids. Remember, ASBA is here to serve you and will always be your association.”
Still, parents have questions. Among those unaddressed by ASBA is a simple one: are parents and/or board members not allowed to question what is being presented to them without being seen as “racist?” Parents want to know how they are supposed to feel comfortable and approve of the Critical Race Theory curriculum when the information their kids are being provided many times is based on misinformation or at times, outright lies?
2021 marks the seventh year of The Equity Event, an annual speaker series for teachers hosted by the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA). This event serves as a touchstone for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives enshrined in school policies statewide.
ASBA characterizes itself as a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that offers training and leadership assistance to public school governing boards.
According to The Equity Event save the date published by ASBA, this year’s Equity Event will have a special focus on culture, race, and ethnicity.
Following the clarifying statement of this year’s focus, the ASBA site insinuated in the following paragraph that the gaps in opportunities and outcomes across school districts might have to do with equity concerning culture, race, and ethnicity.
“Every school district has gaps in opportunity and outcomes,” wrote ASBA. “What are the barriers preventing your district from closing them so that every student can reach their full potential? How can you and your board overcome them?”
The event description continued on to say that past series have uncovered the realities that adversely impact students, such as family income, physical ability, or immigration status. ASBA then stated that culture, race, and ethnicity are related to each of these realities.
Then, ASBA says that race should be focused on more intensely. The association encouraged attendees to become aware of barriers or biases that they aren’t aware existed in themselves.
ASBA has three keynote speakers lined up this year. Calvin Terrell, known for his Ted Talk that advances a kind of secular humanism; Dr. Jennifer Harvey, gay reverend and proponent of antiracism and critical race theory; and Bill de la Cruz, an all-around advocate for racial awareness and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
A pre-conference to The Equity Event on April 21 will include scheduled appearances from a similar string of guests focused on the Latino and Latina communities in the state.
Guest speakers will be Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios; Executive Director of ALL in Education, Stephanie Parra; President & CEO of Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Monica Villalobos; University of Arizona Ph.D. Associate Dean for Community Engagement, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Maribel Alvarez; Arizona State University School of Social Work’s Office of Latino Projects Director, Dr. David Becerra; University of Arizona School of Education Educational Policy and Practice Associate Professor, Dr. Nolan Cabrera; Chief Development Officer and Former Valle del Sol Leadership Development Director, Angela Florez; National Association of Latino Elected/Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund Director of Civic Engagement Research, Dorian Caal; and four school board members from across the state, Eva Carrillo Dong, Devin Del Palacio, Monica Trejo, and Tadeo De La Hoya.
One of the guest speakers for the pre-conference, Cabrera, has caused controversy in recent years. His past work within the Tucson Unified School District with Mexican American Studies classes was panned, and in 2019 he accused University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins of not recognizing White Supremacy because Border Patrol agents were visiting a campus career fair.
The rest of the speaker series will focus on equity across all races overall.
The Equity Event will take place virtually from April 22 through the 23. Registration opened March 8, and the deadline to register was Wednesday, April 14.
Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.