SUSD Drama Continues: When Adults Start Resembling the Students They Govern

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has been quite the magnet for plenty of…interesting activity over the last couple years. From protests to calls for a new superintendent from partisan challenges, there has been no shortage of drama. And that drama recently took a new turn that is something closer to a scene from a high school movie than it is an elected office.

In yet another example of the polarization of the current board, two board members recently requested investigations into each other from Superintendent Scott Menzel. These members are Board President Julie Cieniawski, generally viewed as politically left-of-center, and Amy Carney, who is firmly on the political right.

It started with Cieniawski requesting an investigation into Carney for speaking out against a recent curriculum purchase in a press conference from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, something that the investigation request deems as “actively undermining decisions”, which is against the rules. Carney came back with a counter-request for an investigation for not “allowing for full and complete exploration of each item of business.”

The PebbleGo curriculum in question does seem to have a few potential points of social progressivism that are worth questioning, at least for a conservative constituency. But the idea of not undermining a decision is relatively clear-cut in this case. To speak at a press conference and criticize it clearly fits that bill. The activist community (of which Carney and Werner clearly came from) seem to believe that the most effective way to impact change is publicly, which is simply false. They easily could have disseminated their concerns privately and have other people champion them publicly, but it would have come at the cost of them not receiving attention or accolades (which perhaps was the real issue).

Meanwhile, to attempt to launch an investigation in the same meeting for something that is relatively benign and nebulous in comparison comes off as a “tit for tat” attempt. Given the conservative bloc’s previous activities, it comes off as purely reactionary and with a tenuous understanding of the rules. They already have the respect of conservatives and outsiders, but they simply haven’t earned the respect from the people they need to in order to be effective. In the process, this action comes off as little more than pettiness best left in high school.

The SUSD Governing Board needs conservatives; it could easily be argued that it currently leans to the left of its constituency. But when the conservatives on that board don’t seem willing to understand the rules of engagement for the office they’re in, to simply assume that the bombast that helped get them elected is an appropriate strategy while in office, they do a serious disservice not just to themselves but to the governing board as a whole. They need to start taking this gig seriously.