Republicans and Democrats have generally been divided on ideas to improve Arizona’s public and charter school systems for the benefit of children and their families, but one bill advancing through the state legislature might have a chance at becoming law.
On Tuesday, the Arizona House passed HB 2291, sponsored by Representative David Cook, with a bipartisan 35-25 vote. According to the overview provided by the House, this legislation “authorizes a school district governing board to terminate the superintendent’s employment contract if prescribed criteria are met.” The prescribed criteria in the legislation, that would give the governing board the green light to remove a district superintendent, are if it was “determined by the governing board that the superintendent violated governing board policy; or one or more schools have been assigned a D or F letter grade for at least three years.”
In a release sent out by the House, Representative Cook praised the passage of this bill, saying, “HB 2291 is written to empower local school board members to make decisions that are best for their school districts while being able to protect their limited funding for education that they control. I’m glad to have bipartisan support for this legislation, because making sure that our schools are serving their students and parents is not a partisan matter – it’s something we all believe needs to happen.”
There were four co-sponsors for this legislation – two Democrats and two Republicans. Democrat Representatives Alma Hernandez and Lydia Hernandez co-sponsored HB 2291, along with Republican Representatives Laurin Hendrix and Michele Peña.
Earlier this session, Representative Cook’s bill passed out of the House Education Committee with an 8-2 bipartisan vote, and out of the House Rules Committee with a unanimous 8-0 vote.
The Arizona School Administrators Association, the Arizona Education Association, and the Arizona School Boards Association came out in opposition to this legislation as it was progressing through the Arizona House.
HB 2291 will now be considered by the Arizona Senate.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Public schools are out of control. And it’s going to get worse if we don’t do something about it. Unfortunately, for far too long, school board elections have been some of the most ignored around our state. But whether you have kids in public school, private school, or homeschool—whether your kids are out of school or you don’t have kids at all—this year’s school board election will affect you.
How? Take a look at some of the worst abuses in public school districts in the past year.
A Financial Mess
As a taxpaying citizen, you probably care a lot about where your dollars go. But most school districts don’t share your same concerns. Mesa Public Schools (MPS) is one of them. Back in March, MPS failed to explain where over $32.3 million of their federal emergency funds slated for COVID-related expenditures went—which should’ve resulted in an audit by the State of Arizona.
On Wednesday, the Arizona House approved a bill to expand open meeting law to require enough seating for anticipated attendance and that the agenda include the time when the public may have physical access to the meeting place. The vote panned out evenly along party lines: 31-28, with all Democrats opposed and all Republicans in favor of expanding open meetings.
The legislation, introduced by State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), included a civil penalty for leaders of the public body violating the seating and access time requirements.
When addressing the House Government and Elections Committee, Kavanagh said that governing bodies should anticipate controversial issues that would cause sudden spikes in public attendance. Kavanagh cited the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) incident last year, in which the governing board closed the doors half an hour early to their meeting after enduring overwhelming public attendance the previous week. The legislator explained that he was turned away from attending the meeting because the room was full.
“This is simply meant to prevent a town council, or a school board, or anyone who has a controversial topic from suppressing public input by keeping the meeting in a tiny room so people can’t get in. And that happens,” said Kavanagh.
State Representative Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek) noted that he’d experienced something similar to Kavanagh’s SUSD experience. Hoffman recounted how Higley Unified School District (HUSD) officials refused to allow public attendance beyond 20 percent room capacity, turning away individuals attempting to participate.
Committee Democrats expressed concern that governing bodies wouldn’t be able to anticipate public attendance adequately. Kavanagh said that it would be up to citizens to file open meetings complaints if they suspected government officials weren’t adhering to reasonable accommodations as directed in this bill. He noted that the League of Arizona Cities and Towns wasn’t in opposition to this bill.
Minority Leader Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen) explained in his “no” vote that the bill’s intent was “noble,” but failed to spell out how government officials should anticipate public attendance to accommodate seating. State Representative Sarah Liguori (D-Phoenix) argued that limiting public access to open meetings was a matter of safety, citing the presence of COVID-19 and violence at school board meetings.