Candidates for the Amphitheater Unified School District's school board met for a debate last week presented by the League of Women Voters.
Incumbent and current board president Jeff Grant debated with Scott Leska and Susan Zibrat at the Nanini Library for about 90 minutes with an audience of about 40 people. Each explained their positions on many questions, and why they should get the vote for one of the two seats available on the board.
Both Grant and Zibrat found common ground in support of the way the school district is currently running. "Experience counts," Grant said.
Though Leska said the district is succeeding in Arizona, on a national level it is not. He urged the audience to lean toward "raising the bar."
"Yes, experience counts, but we have to bring in new ideas," Leska said. "We have to find why our schools are failing."
"The Amphitheater School District is not perfect, but show me one… that is," Zibrat replied.
Leska said he did not support Proposition 100, the optional 1 percent sales tax approved by Arizona voters for education and public safety in May.
"Once we have passed it, which we did, which is fine, there was no concrete way that they, the legislature, wouldn't go around and pull that money out from under other sources," Leska said.
He called it a direct tax on the poor – people who were currently having trouble paying for "diapers, necessities, and things people use every day."
Zibrat told the audience she was in the public holding signs urging voters to support Prop 100, and she co-chaired two blue-ribbon committees for the district.
"I wanted to be a part of the solution," Zibrat said. "I wanted to be the person who would bring more resources into our schools, and fortunately they were successful."
Grant was also in support of Prop 100.
"I think not passing it would have been a horrible tax on our children and on our staff," Grant said. "It would have been disastrous."
As a board member, Grant said he couldn't participate in committees such as LEAP Ahead, but fully supported what its members do.
On other subjects, Zibrat said parents "should be able to open enroll their children in the school of their choice.
"I am a strong believer that parents should have the choice of how their children are educated," Zibrat said. "As for the tuition tax credits, I think that they take money from the general fund, they serve to undermine public education, and I personally would like to see that program abolished."
Grant said he was "fine" with open enrollment and charter schools. He agreed with Zibrat, saying "I also am opposed for tuition tax credits for public education. I think it does deplete our general fund. I think there's got to be a better way to do it."
"I guess I am the lone defense on some of these things," Leska said.
He was absolutely in support of open enrollment. Parents and children alike need to have a choice where they are educated, both with charter schools and public schools, Leska said.
"We need competition," Leska said. "In order to get good schools, and excelling schools, to be on the national level, even at the state level, you need choice."
The three candidates were asked for their top three priorities.
Leska said his priorities were academic improvement, accountability and transparency, and community involvement. He would achieve these by reaching into the community, finding out how they could improve their academics, and through that gaining community involvement. He would like more discussions during board meetings. He also would like the agenda packets for the board meetings to be put together in a more understandable way.
Zibrat's three priorities were to provide quality education, increase communication, and to get involved with a feedback system that would help properly evaluate teachers and administrators.
Grant said his priorities were to continue the district's successes, increase funding, and work on communication with the staff. He would go about it by focusing on the district's successes, working for grants and collaborating with parents. He knows the staff in the district has good ideas and would like to find a way to open the lines of communication