At a joint school district governing boards meeting Sept. 13, superintendents and governing board members of the seven Verde Valley school districts round-table interviewed eight candidates for state superintendent of public instruction.
Sedona Red Rock High School hosted the event in its cafeteria, with Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter facilitating.
In the most contested race of the upcoming elections in November 2018, eight candidates are vying to replace Republican Diane Douglas, who has yet to announce whether she will run for reelection as state superintendent of public instruction.
The candidates still have a long road ahead. Before the general election next November, each candidate has to turn in a nomination petition by May 2018. Once on the ballot, partisan candidates will face off in the primaries in August.
On Wednesday, Verde Valley school district leaders got some one-on-one time with each candidate. First the candidates gave brief introductory speeches to the whole group, and then, speed-dating style, sat down with each district’s table for a 10-minute interview before moving on to the next table.
Each shared a bit of their background and the education issues that are important to them.
Stacie Banks, Independent
Running as an independent, teacher Stacie Banks said she typically leans Republican but doesn’t agree with the conservative stance on school vouchers.
“As superintendent, it is my goal to address the real issues that our public schools face. We have funding problems. We have teacher retention problems. We have capital needs that are not being addressed. We have to change dramatically the way that we do things,” she said. With a background in assessment, Banks said she wants to address the way poverty and low test scores are linked. “I would really love to see us look at test scores differently than we do …. I believe that single metric is not giving us the best picture of how all of our students are doing.”
Robert Branch, Republican
Robert Branch is a college professor with a background in military cryptography and computer design.
“I’m here because I do teach teachers. I see the problems every day that our teachers have. We were talking the other day — myself and my students in the classroom — and they were telling me how they were setting up their schools for the year. And they were telling me they were spending $300, $400, $500 of their own money just to have supplies for their students …. And to me, that’s just not right,” he said.
“As a Republican I’m big into state’s rights and I believe that we finally have the opportunity, through Donald Trump, to bring back education to the state of Arizona.”
Jonathan Gelbart, Republican
Jonathan Gelbart has spent the past three years as the director of charter school development for BASIS Charter Schools, where he oversaw funding and development for the company’s network of schools.
“I want to jump-start the conversation about innovation in Arizona. We have a real opportunity here in Arizona to be the leaders for building a 21st century education system. You have artificial intelligence and various other new technologies that are transforming the job market, and we can make sure we’re preparing the next generation to be successful in those jobs,” he said. “The education system I think of as an old Model T — if you spruce it up and put a lot of investment into it, it’s still a Model T. We need a brand new car.”
Kathy Hoffman, Democrat
Kathy Hoffman has five years of experience teaching, including work as a speech therapist at a Title 1 school, where she works with bilingual students as well as special education students.
“I have worked with students that I currently feel our government is not giving the proper attention to. I believe as a state we should be investing in our students, and providing them with all the support and resources that they need to be successful in the schools,” she said. “I strongly believe that Arizona’s future starts in our schools, and only through investing in our students, the inclusion of all students, and competitive pay for our teachers, can we bring our state from the bottom to the top and hopefully one day soon become leaders of academic success.”
Tracy Livingston, Republican
Tracy Livingston has 16 years of experience as a teacher, including 12 years in Title 1 schools, serves on the board of the Maricopa Community College Governing Board, and is a former board member of Peoria Unified School District.
“I am tired of administrators and I am tired of politicians. What I want to do is get the job done for you. I remember what it’s like, because I just left it,” she said. “What I want to do is get the job done for you. As your superintendent, I will do exactly what the job states. I will be the communicator between the house, the senate and the governor to get the bills passed. To help create the policies needed for your kids, for your teachers and for your parents.”
Frank Riggs, Republican
As a former California congress-man and candidate for California Senate and Arizona governor, Frank Riggs is no stranger to state government. He also was a member of the Education and Workforce Committee during his terms in Congress.
“Full disclosure: My real motivation for running for superintendent of public instruction are my five grandkids …. I’m worried about their future, and the status of education in our state,” he said. “We’ve been involved — I’m not telling you anything you don’t know — in a race to the bottom. I want to pay our teachers competitively, I want more dollars into the classroom. I want to work with our public and charter schools to work on these pent-up needs.”
David Schapira, Democrat
David Schapira has experience on both sides of the aisle, as a teacher and assistant superintendent, as well as in Arizona legislature, where he has served in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
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“I believe that public education, high-quality public education, is a right that should be guaranteed to every child in this state. I believe that the state legislature — because I served there for six years and saw firsthand — has done a great job of intentionally working to dismantle our public school system in this state,” he said. “I will take back the helm of our department of education and make sure the superintendent of public instruction is the primary advocate for public schools at the state capitol, and that we have a state department of education that serves our districts instead of puts up roadblocks.”
Stuart Starky, Green
Stuart Starky has a long history of campaigning: He’s unsuccessfully run for Arizona Senate, the House of Representatives and, most recently, against Sen. John McCain for U.S. Senate in 2004. He’s been a teacher for 17 years, and a principal for the past seven.
“Every day, I see the changes I’ve made in my students’ lives,” he said. “You cannot walk away when you hear people talking about — sorry to get political — the Trump budget and the [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos plan to eliminate all of our Title 2 funding, for us to lose desegregation funding, to purposely attack your Hispanic population by taking away the funding that lets you reduce class size, that lets you get your programs in for students with special needs and those you call [English Language Learners] …. We need to change the dialogue about what is the department of education about, and what is our community as a state about.”