Squeeze Play

By Glenn Cook

Rae Waters had no reason to believe things would turn out like this. The Kyrene Elementary District, located in an affluent suburb in the Phoenix-Tempe area, was growing rapidly when she ran for the school board seven years ago. Buoyed by its proximity to Intel and Motorola, the 17,000-student district had a reputation as “the go-to place” for good schools.

But enrollment has dropped by almost 7 percent in the K-8 district over the past five years, and the number of Title I schools has climbed from two to five. The No Child Left Behind Act has brought attention to a growing achievement gap. Still, even as enrollment declined, expectations didn’t -- on the part of the schools or the parents.

When those expectations are different, as Waters has learned, the board feels the squeeze. In her case, the dispute was over schedule changes and cutbacks in electives at Kyrene’s six middle schools, part of an effort to add more concentrated time in reading, writing, and math. In March -- just three months after taking office as president of the Arizona School Boards Association -- Waters faces a recall board election, and she remains perplexed by the entire affair.

“On our school board, we have five people who are not supposed to represent one group. We’re supposed to be doing what’s best for all kids,” Waters says. “That’s a conundrum for school boards: How do you meet the state and federal laws when the community doesn’t think that’s what you should be doing?” 

For boards and administrators, the long-term stakes are higher as well, perhaps more so than at any time since the school reform movement started. Over the past two-plus decades, the tradition of local control has been shaken to its core, beset by a rash of state and federal mandates, battles over consolidation and choice, and the growth of well-funded national organizations that have placed schools at the center of the political and culture wars. And parents, chafed by the loss of control, are taking out their frustrations on board members.

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.