Guest Editorial: Passing & Accepting The Public Service Baton

By Pam Kirby
Ms. Kirby has twice been elected to the Governing Board of the Scottsdale Unified School District and previously served from 2008-2014 on the Paradise Valley Town Council.

Life, and public service, can be a lot like a relay race.  Work as a team, try as hard as you can, then hand off the baton.
That’s what I did when I served on the Paradise Valley Town Council before focusing my energies on the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board.  And it’s what I have decided to do now. 
I like term limits because I believe government serves the people best when there are new perspectives and energies.  And while I am not prevented from running for re-election this year, my decision not to run will open the door for those fresh ideas.
I don’t want to whitewash matters that have plagued our district over the past year.  They were and are serious and in need of repair.  However, we are fortunate to have Dr. John Kriekard as our new Acting Superintendent and he is hard at work, focused on moving the district forward.
I do believe many of the reform initiatives we undertook as a Board were necessary and important.  But, the messengers implementing it were wrong.  That’s why I was the first boardmember to call for the previous Superintendent’s dismissal.  I wish it could have been otherwise but the situation demanded it.  We have been and will continue to cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office to settle the matters so parents, students and teachers can get on with what they do best.
I learned something very important over the past two years.  No matter how strong the need for change may be, the pace of that change needs to be calibrated.  There can only be so much reform at one time and those who disagree with it deserve respect and communication along the way. 
I also witnessed something else – the incredible vibrancy of citizen-led democracy.  In Arizona, we saw it materialize as #RedForEd.  In Scottsdale, it is the “No DDC” grassroots group.  In SUSD, those frustrated rose up and became the primary impetus for the debate, terminations and investigations that took place.  It was a tough thing to go through as a boardmember.  However, I truly believe these citizens deserve accolades for the passion they bring to the public square.  It is democracy at its messy, very best.
The headlines over the past year suffocated great successes everyone in our district should be proud of.  Here are just a few. Test scores continue to trend upward.  Teacher pay increases exceed the state average.   In just a few weeks, Pima Elementary will open as SUSD’s second traditional school, in a brand new facility.  Cocopah’s Honors program and Mountainside’s IB program continue to gain momentum, meeting the needs of the middle school high achiever.  We are seeing positive results from the profound turnaround at Coronado High School, championed by my fellow Boardmember Kim Hartman, the Scottsdale Charros and others.   Finally, we are shifting the culture to empower and support our principals as the instructional leaders of their communities so decisions about how to best meet the academic needs of students are made closer to the students.
As I pass the baton onto the field of candidates now running for the Governing Board I have already accepted another baton from those who seek to rightly ban “dark money” from Arizona’s political system.  Arizona has become the most prolific state in the country for this transgression on our elections and is worthy of the fight ahead.  I will be spending more time in the upcoming months as Outlaw Dirty Money’s Chairperson for the Greater Scottsdale Area.  I hope many readers share my opinion and will join me in voting “Yes” in November.
While I don’t have a title for another campaign, you can count me as a committed “No” for the #INVESTinED ballot initiative.  Let’s be clear.  I support more money for teachers and education.  Indeed, I was the first person earlier this year to propose changing Arizona law to allow the voters in local school districts to raise taxes explicitly for teacher pay.  This is a major step beyond current law and is a tool only available to us for buildings.
But creating the fifth highest income tax rate in the nation is not the way to go and will harm the very revenue streams to expand and stabilize public school assistance in the long term.  There are better ways as the Arizona Republic and many others have noted.
Lastly, I want to say thank you to the thousands of voters who allowed me to step into the arena, serve and then pass the baton.
The Scottsdale Unified School District is facing challenges on numerous fronts including unrelenting competition and additional choices from private and charter schools.   But I believe, and will always believe, our district is and must remain the best choice for parents and children, offering a diverse and comprehensive educational environment like no one else does, or can.