Kabuki Theater is often invoked when folks in a public arena play what the audience knows are pre-determined parts with a pre-determined outcome.
Kind of like the Gilbert School Board meeting this past Tuesday.
The place was packed, media coverage was extensive, and emotions were strong. And the outcome was pre-ordained.
The issue? Yet another shot at an override election.
In addition to more than $20 million cut from Gilbert’s budget by the legislature over the past five years, the defeat of two previous overrides has led to an additional $12 million cut in the last two years. A declining enrollment has cut another $1.6 million from the budget. And with the end of the current override next year, an additional $6 million will be cut.
All total? Almost $40 million will have been cut from the budget by 2015, with a paltry 1.4-percent inflation adjustment added to the budget as a result of a successful lawsuit against the state legislature.
So over the last two years, GPS has had two override elections, each failing. The current interim superintendent, Dr. Jim Rice, recommended the district go out for yet a third budget override this year, given the economic devastation the district has faced over the last six years, with yet more to come. In conjunction with a consultant, Dr. Rice came up with a plan that would restore funding — not increase it — and actually lower property taxes.
In part, he argued, GPS continues to fall behind the districts around Gilbert, with teacher salaries in both Mesa and Chandler far surpassing Gilbert’s, which in part explains the over 245 teachers resigning from Gilbert this year.
But another part of those resignations could be seen in the board meeting, during the discussion of calling for an override.
Everyone played their parts.
The audience was overwhelming supportive of an override, with many speaking for it and a few against it. There were angry speeches directed towards the board majority of Staci Burk, Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin. There were speeches by an elderly couple questioning the need for an election, others arguing that the voters had said “No,” twice, so why do this again?
The board played their reliably consistent parts, with Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys on one side and Burk, Colvin and Smith on the other. Humpherys and Tram argued for the override, noting the effect the budget cuts have had on the district, and often invoking “the children” in asking for a vote.
But they and the audience were wasting their time, because Burk, Colvin and Smith had already indicated they were against the override.
Colvin blamed “negativity” for his opposition to the vote, earlier claiming that “sore losers” created such a toxic atmosphere that no override had a chance to pass. Of course, he conveniently neglected to note his own culpability in that negativity, given his wild pronouncements and indecipherable votes.
Smith argued from a financial perspective, claiming that the district was heading in the right direction, thanks to change at the top, but that Gilbert wasn’t there yet. Of course, this is the same person who when campaigning claimed there was some hidden pot of money in the budget, a pot she so far hasn’t been able to find.
And Burk? Well, over the course of two meetings on the override, she gave just about every reason she could invoke to oppose an election, including, laughably, the claim that an override could lead to the death of elderly folks who, Burk said, would not be able to afford their “life-saving medications” because of an override that could actually lead to lower taxes for them.
Smith was cogent but wrong, Colvin was passing the buck, and Burk was all over the park. Par for the course.
So when they voted 3-2 not to have an override election, some in the audience moaned and booed and hissed. No one should’ve been surprised, though, because the board members played their parts perfectly.
But here’s the upshot. The district is not the problem here. Almost all of the schools in the district — in fact, all but one — have earned an “A” or “B” rating from the state, as has the district. Kids get millions of dollars in scholarships. Two of Gilbert’s schools have been identified as two of the best in the nation. Teachers win all kinds of awards and honors. Test scores are far above the state’s average. The district has the lowest administrative costs in the East Valley. Parents help make these good schools even better.
In other words, a fantastic district.
Then there’s the school board. Dysfunctional, inconsistent, mired in petty personal arguments, creating an image for the district that no one wants.
In other words, the town of Gilbert has an “A” district, and an “F” school board majority.