Like Watching a Car Crashing Into a Trainwreck (While a Nuclear Bomb Goes Off)
Must be the latest Deer Valley Unified School District board meeting
I’ve witnessed some pretty terrible governing board meetings over the last fifteen years, but this week’s Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) Governing Board meeting last night was… extra. It was like watching a car crashing into a trainwreck while a nuclear bomb goes off.
It wasn’t good.
I know I’ve been focused on Peoria meetings lately (and don’t worry, PUSD, I STILL can’t quit you), but I have been hearing so much about the fuckery taking place in DVUSD, I decided that it was time for another Roadshow edition of our Secular AZ Substack, so prepare yourselves: I’m about to blow your mind (and not in a good way).
I’ll start with a few observations. A volunteer signed up to attend DVUSD meetings (YAY!), so I met him there, and we started going over the agenda. My comrade (watch their heads explode at the use of that term) informed me that he’s hard of hearing, and as we sat down, both of us were impressed at how large their boardroom is. But that means it’s kind of echoey in that space, and makes it difficult to hear.
We also noticed that despite the fact that there were a couple of large screens there, they weren’t being utilized to project the agenda or a video with closed captions… meaning that folks needing accommodations are just kinda out of luck.
For a district that’s one of the top employers in the state (and that has received national attention as one of America’s best employers), I expected more. I plan on reaching out to the board and administrators to ask them to make their meetings more accessible. If you would like to learn more about how to address your local board via email or in-person, you can fill out this handy form.
Before the meeting, 3%er board member, Paul Carver, who was also present at the J6 insurrection and who recently tried to get appointed for the LD2 vacancy left by Steve Kaiser, was walking around and greeting folks. Well, he was greeting *some* folks, namely an older man wearing a MAGA hat.
Next, we were onto the Pledge, and one MAGA grandpa behind me delivered a hearty “AMEN” at the end of the Pledge. Weird flex, but OK. Remember, I’m used to PUSD meetings, so these folks got nothin on the Bible thumpers there.
Next was a moment of silence and during this meeting, this moment meant something. Sadly, two tragedies recently struck the district within a couple of days of each other. A classified staff member passed away unexpectedly the night before, and another teacher had a heart attack and died suddenly, on a DVUSD school campus, in front of students. Board Member Ann Ordway asked that we put their families in our hearts as we silently bowed our heads.
At this point I looked around at the staff, and saw the redness in their eyes. It was clear that this was a district in pain and in shock. I could only imagine how the children and staff felt watching their colleague and teacher die in front of them, and I got a little verklempt.
The next agenda item was the adoption of the agenda. Board Member Ordway made a motion to remove three very meaty agenda items up for discussion (staffing, HR termination process, and DVUSD grading practices) to another date, given the tragedies that happened in this first week of school. Board Member Stephanie Simacek, who was dialing in due to illness (again, DVUSD, where is the video feed with subtitles so we can understand absent board members better?) seconded the motion. Normal stuff, and totally understandable given the circumstances.
Next, Board President Jennie Paperman spoke. And let’s just get some background on her, shall we? Paperman ran for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) and lost to Tom Horne, but he still gave her a sweet gig at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE).
Despite there being a motion to approve the agenda, minus the three discussion items, she ignored it, but Simacek reminded her there was a motion. Board Member Kim Fisher and Board President Paperman immediately voted nay, and then Paul Carver asked to explain his vote (at this point, we’re at 2-2).
What happened next surprised me. Board Member Carver voted yes, saying that staff and admin were grieving and thinking about how to address these tragedies with students and staff. He went on to say that keeping them here for a long time wasn’t right and now is the time for compassion. He voted aye.
Despite already voting, Kim Fisher decided she would also like to explain her vote.
She essentially said blah, blah, blah, sure these people deserve grace but what I want is more important, blah, blah blah, this has taken a long time, yadda yadda yadda, and everyone is against me, I’m such a victim, blah blah blah…
Board Member Ordway recommended that these items go onto the September study session agenda (study sessions are public meetings that allow board members, staff, and stakeholders to STUDY certain topics, programs, policies, initiatives, etc.) and justified it by saying that everyone’s minds would be fresh at a later date.
And despite the vote already being recorded, Board Members Paperman and Fisher kept discussing, with Superintendent Curt Finch correcting her misinformation about processes. It was painfully clear that there are two members of this board who do not understand parliamentary procedure or Robert’s Rules of Order.
Next up, EVERYONE’S (least) favorite: Public Comments!
Thankfully, only one woman had signed up to speak, and she was against the proposed Arizona School Board Association (ASBA) legislative agenda for the coming legislative session. Most school boards in Arizona partner with and rely on ASBA to draft policy and work with the legislature to ensure pro-public education policies are the focus.
The woman who addressed the board was very AGAINST this year’s ASBA proposed legislative agenda, including the idea of local control (I thought the GOP liked local control?), allowing districts to have full flexibility in managing programming and learning materials, and opposing any efforts to ban educational materials (read: she loves book bans).
The board voted to approve the consent agenda (consent agenda items are usually standard approvals of contracts, Memorandums of Understanding (MOU), travel requests, donation approvals, etc.) with Board Member Fisher voting nay for no reason.
The next item was about a travel request for Superintendent Finch to attend the American School Superintendent Association Conference. Board Member Fisher once again showed her lack of understanding by moving that they don’t allow this travel request. She was reminded by Board Member Carver that that’s not how this works.
You know, I see a lot of bad boardsmanship in my travels, but I have never seen a more unprofessional board member than Kim Fisher. During the entire meeting, she was on her phone (I’ve heard she livestreams on Truth Social and posts to some hateful Facebook pages during meetings).
She has a TERRIBLE poker face. If I had a nickel for every time she shook her head, smirked, interrupted, scoffed, or straight up lied on the dais, I’d probably have enough money to buy a nice set of noise-canceling headphones so I wouldn’t ever have to hear her voice again.
She makes Senator Jake Hoffman look professional…oh wait, who am I kidding, he’s incapable of that.
At this point, Board Member Carver made the motion to approve this travel item and Board Member Ordway seconded the motion. Board Member Carver asked to explain his vote, and acknowledged that he has found value in his ASBA trainings, therefore, the Superintendent should also partake in professional development as well. He voted aye.
Board Member Ordway reminds the board that this is actually part of Finch’s contract, and then, Board Member Fisher asks to explain her vote.
She acknowledged that it’s in his contract to travel, but said since he has a doctorate and is paid a quarter-of-a-million dollars should know these things. She also said that the content is garbage and that anything Dr. Finch has brought back (SEL) has been bad for the district (it hasn’t).
She then insinuated that he only goes to these trainings to hang out with his buddies for a good time. Dr. Finch spoke up and said, “it is totally disrespectful and inappropriate…to question my integrity and my character.”
Yo, Dr. Finch went full Dark Brandon on her, and I was HERE for it!
I’ve never seen Dr. Finch so animated, and it’s a long time coming. The abuse that superintendents deal with from extremist board members like Fisher is too much. These behaviors and personalities get in the way of the mission and vision of the district, and at the end of the day, they only hurt students.
Behavior in the boardroom trickles down to the classrooms, and shame on these board members who behave worse than any middle school student I’ve ever had.
The next item — about student fundraising — was confusing. TBH, I was kind of lost at this point, and once again, Paul Carver (!!!) was the voice of reason! During the campaign, Mr. Carver aligned himself with some erm, “Randy” characters, but tonight? Mr. Carver came across as a reasonable person with the students’ and district’s best interests at heart.
I plan on following these DVUSD meetings to see if it sticks. Because I truly don’t care what party you belong to as long as you prioritize our public schools, and so far, it seems Mr. Carver is doing that. Keep it up, Paul!
Finally, we were at Superintendent and Board Member reports. I heard from a constituent that there is now a time limit on Board Member reports because Board Member Fisher LOVES the sound of her own voice and would often ramble on for 45 minutes to an hour.
As expected, the pro-public education board members (including Paul Carver?!) gave benign reports about the district’s back-to-school rally (held at Grand Canyon University - boooooo), school visits, and a shoe drive. Board Member Simacek once again implored the board to collaborate and NOT post every damn thought that enters their heads onto social media.
Board Member Fisher defended her ugly posts. During the board meeting, these are just a few of the things she posted:
(Did I mention she was on her phone, posting, during the board meeting?)
I lucked out this week, y’all, because these board meetings often go until 11:00 or midnight. This one clocked in at just under an hour. From what I’ve heard, DVUSD is struggling to find candidates to run in 2024, and I get it.
When school board meetings go on for 4, 5, 6 hours, and people in the audience (and even on the dais) are disparaging your character or even making threats to you, why would we expect people to jump at the chance to run?
This is the other side’s MO. To them, this is a war of attrition, and they’re trying to wear down good, logical, thoughtful, and empathetic pro-public school candidates and members.
We can’t let them win this war.
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