Foothills school board race crowded - The Explorer: Import

Foothills school board race crowded

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Posted: Wednesday, December 6, 2006 12:00 am | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In a race to fill three seats on the board, Catalina Foothills School Board President Mary Lou Richerson is the only incumbent among eight candidates. That number represents the most candidates running in any school board election in the county.

"It's nice," district Superintendent Mary Kamerzell commented before last week's board meeting. "It's good to have an actual race."

The reasons behind the large number of candidates are equally as numerous. Most of the candidates say they are running to "give back" to the community. One candidate, Mark Esparza, goes so far as to say that he's running to repay the district that served his daughter well.

Others, such as Danny Roth, admit a frustration with the current board's recent conduct. Roth says that frustration is one of his reasons for running.

Commonly, school board elections get crowded when members don't run for re-election, said Karen Beckvar of the Arizona School Boards Association.

"Typically, if there's an open seat, you have a lot more people who feel they have a shot at it," she said. "It's like, 'Okay, I've been thinking about it and now's a good time to run."

Cliff Altfeld, one of the two Foothills board members who decided not to run for re-election, said the glut of candidates was probably caused in part by the open seats.

He estimated that about half of the candidates were encouraged into the race by board members and concerned parents who were worried that there would be no good candidates to replace the two leaving members, himself and Dan Cooper. The other half, he said, are motivated by animosity toward some of the board's recent decisions. "We stepped on a few toes a long the way," he said.

When asked, few of the candidates will go so far as to admit they are running because they found fault with the current board members. The candidate who comes the closest, Roth, said he is running partly because this year represents an opportunity to replace over half of the board.

"It's a good time for a change," he said.

This is not to say that the other candidates aren't critical of the board. When pressed, most said they believe the board members don't do enough to give the impression that they are listening to the community. At the board's last meeting, members voted unanimously to build a parking lot at the high school despite the protesting comments made by a group of neighbors.

Candidate Sherri Silverberg said the parking lot was probably a necessity, but added that she wanted the board to do a better job listening to those with complaints.

"I just wish they had done something to give those people the impression that they matter," she said.

Silverberg said she has considered running for a while, but she chose to run this year because, now that she has a child in the high school, she knows about all levels of schooling in the district.

This is almost the exact opposite of the reason given by candidate Janell Jellison. Jellison no longer has children in the district, and therefore said she thinks she can now make unbiased decisions.

Even Esparza, who began the race with the goal to give back to the district that had given him so much, has come to see that Foothills residents don't feel that the board cares what they have to say. He and candidate Ann Moynihan have been going door to door asking residents their thoughts on the board.

"People feel they don't have a voice," he said.

Some candidates also said the board has been neglecting its responsibility to serve as a balance to the district administration and has too often simply rubber-stamped the administration's recommendations.

Most of those recommendations are good ones, said candidate Mark Kipphut, but Kipphut has the impression that they are passing the bulk of the responsibly for decision making on to Kamerzell.

Candidate Matt Russell told a story about a conversation he had with a friend, who is a Foothills resident. He asked his friend what he could do to improve the school board.

"You better listen," the friend said.

So Russell sat down and looked his friend in the eyes. "Okay, I'm ready," he said

"No, that's it," said the friend. "You had better listen."

The election will be held Nov. 7.

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