Sun, Aug. 18

Editorial: It’s quite the mess new Mingus School Board needs to clean up

It’s hard to imagine an elected body coming into office with more problems to solve than those confronting the Mingus Union School Board.

First and foremost is the question of what to do about the superintendent’s position. This one plays like a broken record as current acting superintendent, Genie Gee, is Mingus’ 12th superintendent in the past 18 years, and the district’s fifth since 2016.

And there is still the fallout from the resignation of former Superintendent Penny Hargrove, who has been reported to the Arizona Department of Education and Attorney General’s Office for conflict of interest allegations as well as her handling of technology failures related to last year’s AzMERIT testing.

The new board also inherits a school system that earned a D in last year’s State Board of Education report cards, and whose AzMERIT test scores were among the worst in the Verde Valley.

The latest fence to mend for the new Mingus board deals with the school’s commitment to transparent government practices. In November, Mingus received a slap on the hand for an Open Meeting Law violation that occurred in 2017. It pales in comparison to some of the missteps committed by the board and administration in 2018. Think back to the horribly flawed attempt by the Mingus board to remedy an Open Meeting Law challenge last year through ratification, and then failed to follow the legal steps required of the state’s ratification law.

Like the former Mingus board, this new board will likely have to take a walk down the school district consolidation road again in 2019. That cannot be avoided. But if there is an important lesson to be learned from 2018, it’s that school district consolidation and the day-to-day education mission of Mingus Union High School are two entirely different things. So many of the problems encountered by the Mingus board and administration in 2018 came from weighing almost every single thing they did against how it would play in the consolidation debate. Especially administratively, Mingus needs to take a page from the Steve King handbook and stay as far removed from school district consolidation as possible. Leave that fight to the politicians, community advocates and voters.

On the transparency front, there is nothing the new board and administration can do about the past. What they can do, however, is implement policies designed to clearly go above and beyond what the law requires on open meetings and public records. Mingus needs to do away with the foolish practice of having school board members conduct public business through private email accounts. This district needs to post draft board meeting minutes on the MUHS website -- approved by the superintendent -- within three days of any meeting, and not allow those minutes to be altered absent a majority vote of the school board in a public meeting. The district also needs to back up archaic manual minutes with an audio and/or video recording of school board meetings. Take it a step further and broadcast all Mingus School Board meetings live via Facebook. Not only will this make a strong statement about the school’s commitment to transparency, but it’s also an absolute defense when challenged on Open Meeting Law transgressions.

Mingus was the Verde Valley’s worst government body on transparency issues in 2018.

The new board and administration need to take steps to make the district the Verde Valley’s best in 2019.