As the year 2014 draws to an end, so does Staci Burk’s service as a member of the Governing Board of Gilbert Public Schools. As Board President for two consecutive years, Staci bore the brunt of political attacks from all sides, especially from local and national teachers’ unions and associations and their pals, who spent more than six figures trying to stack the next Governing Board in their favor.
Let’s look back at Staci’s time on the board and where GPS is now. A list of accomplishments includes:
• The budget and spending process within Gilbert Public Schools is the most transparent and open that it has ever been. In the past, even board members had to file public records requests to get specifics.
• Gilbert Public Schools has transitioned from one of the lowest in parent satisfaction with the Special Education Program to one of the highest, recognized as No. 1 in the state in academic progress in this area.
• Gilbert Public Schools has transitioned from a B-rated school district to an A. The separate scores for individual schools continue to improve, too.
• Gilbert Public Schools board meetings are now live-streamed and have been archived over the Internet for all to attend at their convenience.
• Gilbert Public Schools instituted a true pay-for-performance plan for teachers.
• Gilbert Public Schools implemented a physical-education credit waiver for hard-working marching-band students.
• Gilbert Public Schools implemented a self-contained gifted classroom.
• Gilbert Public Schools discontinued the use of a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the teachers union and transferred all the important language into policy to benefit all teachers.
• Gilbert Public Schools restored an American tradition of having an invocation at the beginning of board meetings.
There’s quite a back story about why Staci decided to run for a seat on the board. As Mark Twain sagely noted: “A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” We posted about a lie / rumor / gossip about Staci suing GPS and collecting MILLIONS of tax payer dollars that a superintendent finally addressed for the public. Jack Keegan (remember him?) sent out a memo to set the record straight, starting by explaining that Board President Staci Burk NEVER sued Gilbert Public Schools:
What I am concerned about is the outright misinformation that has been distributed throughout the District. My purpose in this memo is to make the facts available to all staff.
The rumor, however, just won’t die. According to the real story that was in the press, GPS filed a due process lawsuit AGAINST Staci Burk, not the other way around. GPS filed that lawsuit as retaliation against her because she advocated for her kids. GPS also retaliated by influencing Pop Warner Football officials to drop her boys from their teams. (Say it all together now: “Business as usual in GPS.”)
Mom charges retaliation in fight with Gilbert school district
Staci Griffin-Burk and the district have had a shaky relationship for the past couple of years due to disputes over two of her children’s education. Griffin-Burk also has been an advocate for about a half-dozen other families whose children have special needs, including some whose children attend Gilbert Public Schools. Griffin-Burk said she has won a few disputes on behalf of the families and wonders if now, because of that, the district considers her a threat.
We’ll turn to Staci’s words, reported contemporaneously in local media, explaining why she ran for a seat on the board and what she hoped to accomplish:
Need to help others motivated Burk to run for GPS board
Although Burk is passionate about special education, she stresses it’s not the only issue she’s concerned with. She said the budget is just as big of a concern, and wants to find better ways to cut, if the need arises, without affecting teachers or classrooms. Burk wants to retain excelling teachers and find ways to pay them what they’re worth. She also wants to set up a system where teachers and other district staff can address the board without fear of retribution.
What are your top three priorities, if elected, and how would you address them?
Improve responsiveness to parent concerns
Address budget issues in a fiscally responsible manner
Support retaining quality teachers and maximizing tax dollars getting to the classrooms
What a shock to the Good Old Boys and Powers That Be when Staci not only won a seat on the board, she was the highest vote getter by far! Before Staci and fellow newbie Shane Stapley were seated, the GOBs took some steps to preserve their beloved status quo … or status quo antebellum, as they feared would be the case. First up, GOBs renewed Good Old Dave Allison’s contract through 2013, a year earlier than normally would be done. Good Old Dave (GOD?) feared that he would have to retire in 2012. As we all know, it would have been much better for GPS if that had happened. As reported in the press at the time:
Fiscal conservatism aided Burk, Stapley in winning GPS seats. Burk said she is “very appreciative and grateful” for her low-key campaign’s win. “I am happy to have been invited by the voters to continue to advocate for children, parents, teachers and the community on the Gilbert Unified Governing Board,” said Burk in an e-mail. “I have a solid reputation of expecting outcomes from school administration,” she added, warning “if that takes disrupting the status quo, then so be it.”
Staci let it be known that GOBs had taken other measures to shore up their power base before she was seated:
As a side note, on 11-23-10 after I was elected but before I took office, GPS signed a deal with Climatec for $6.8 Million dollars for energy efficient light bulbs. There was supposed to be a guarantee that the new light bulbs would offset the cost combined by the e-rate reimbursement, but my understanding is neither Climatec nor GPS put the guarantee actually into the contract. I have closely monitored the energy savings and have not seen the reductions in energy costs that were proposed by the deal.
Advocating for all GPS students was strenuous work for Staci, especially with the push-back coming from within the GPS superintendency when the district had failing schools under No Child Left Behind:
In Gilbert, a group of failing special-education students hindered schools from meeting the requirements, especially because of problems in math, said Barbara VeNard, an assistant superintendent. None of the special-education groups in Gilbert’s six junior highs met the requirements, so all of the district’s junior highs did not meet adequate yearly progress.
Apparently, the GOBs had never experienced the kind of advocacy that Staci Burk exemplified. During those years, Dave Allison strived to keep quiet that GPS SpEd kids were harassed and experienced discrimination at the East Valley Institute of Technology. Others in the community became impassioned advocates following Staci’s successes in reframing the dialog:
Does anyone else in Gilbert find it unseemly that an assistant superintendent would throw struggling students under the proverbial bus? Do any other mothers of a special education students – in Gilbert or anywhere else – find the language used in the article offensive? To openly blame students, who courageously face their challenges every day, for the district’s failure to meet adequate yearly progress seems dishonorable. According to the article, none of the junior high schools met the requirements for adequate yearly progress because none of the special education groups met their progress requirements. Regardless of who is to blame…pointing the finger at a handful of students, who are not in the position to defend themselves, is spineless and pitiful.
Staci succeeded in opening the board meetings to the public. At first, people who started attending board meetings were political conservatives and people who had a bone to pick with the administration. These people were not welcomed by the superintendency or the GOB board, especially after they started videoing board meetings and then … scandalously posting those videos on websites for all of GPS stakeholders to see! OMG!
While the GOBs retained the majority of votes, they came out with some ridiculous ways to stop Staci’s voice from being heard. When Staci requested agenda items that the GOBs didn’t want discussed in public, a year later the board adopted Tram’s Rule, named for then-president Lily Tram:
…Shane and Staci, who wanted to do something about streamlining resources, improving efficiency, improving student learning, fostering more transparency, started asking questions. They also started adding far too many “Items for Future Consideration” to the Governing Board Agenda. This created too much “busy work” for staff, thought other Board members.
Finally, President Lily Tram couldn’t take it anymore and swung into action. After several meetings, questions, issues relating to possible violations of Open Meeting Law, consultations with attorneys, Ms. Tram issued “Tram’s Rule” ala Rube Goldberg. Tram ruled that all Items for Future Consideration wouldn’t see the light of day unless it was approved by a Majority of the Board members.
No matter how hard they tried, the GOBs on the Governing Board and in the GPS Superintendency couldn’t hold back the coming citizens’ war against the way the school district had been run. Staci had plenty of other ideas, including broadcasting board meetings on the Internet – apostasy from previous GOB control of information!
Staci Burk: I love that we have had so many speakers. It is a night and day difference from when I came to board meetings as a parent. Millions and millions of dollars were being spent on things such as light bulbs and worthless software. I love, love, love that we have so many parents and teachers attending. Whatever it takes to keep eyes watching, I’m for it.
In addition to the loss of control of the public message, GPS lost funding in the Great Recession. All Arizona school districts experienced the same losses. GPS chose a novel approach, as we learned several years later: GOBs have admitted to overspending by 15.3 MILLION DOLLARS; they also confessed to hiding that from the Governing Board and from the public since 2010. Let’s see what neighboring districts did at that time in comparison to GPS:
State’s school districts cope in varying ways with cuts in funding. The Great Recession battered the state’s take from sales, property and income taxes and public-land sales, causing Arizona to chop its per-student funding, hike the sales tax and patch in with federal stimulus aid. Basic funding slipped in fiscal 2010 and 2011. In November 2009, 20 of 36 override votes failed in the Valley. In November 2010, six of 16 overrides failed. Chandler has long known that growth will stop one day and has money-making ideas for when that day comes. For example, the district has a $25 million “rainy day” fund it has built over the past 30 years for tough financial times.
With that dismal record, in 2012 then-Superintendent Dave Allison recommended the board go to voters for an override (while hiding the $15.3 Million loss).
GPS board approves fall budget override ballot measure. Jason Barney, a Gilbert dad, land developer and school board candidate, said while he supports the override being put on the ballot, he also supports fiscal accountability. “The voting public may defeat this if we don’t explain how the district spends its money,” said Barney, who has worked with administrators to put together a 100-page simplified budget that should be available soon on the district’s website. “If the override fails, don’t fire teachers and coaches. There has got to be a better way to manage the budget.”
Burk questioned some of the recommended cuts and wondered if the district would actually make those cuts when the time came. She questioned where some of the savings were the district has said in the past would help the budget, such as savings from installing energy-efficient lighting. She also questioned “excessive” costs to pay for consultants and software. Burk also said she doesn’t know whether this is the right time to put the override on the ballot. “I hear from the community they want to make a statement by voting no,” Burk said.
Showing that GPS couldn’t put together a well-defined message to the public, and especially not to voters, there was another epic battle for control of the GPS power base: the money. The 2012 override failed. The
union Gilbert Education Association had lost too many skirmishes to Staci Burk and feared complete loss of what little reputation GEA retained, so they made Staci the all-purpose bogeyman for all of GPS’s problems. Staci remained true to the promises she had made to the people who elected her:
Gilbert Public Schools board trades restored pay for smaller class sizes. A battle during a Gilbert Public Schools board meeting Tuesday night over spending about $1.05 million to restore lost pay or reduce classroom sizes ended with a decision to let non-teaching staffers continue taking a 2 percent pay cut so some classes can be smaller. Board President Staci Burk and members Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin voted in favor of class-size reductions while Lily Tram and Jill Humphreys voted to use the money to lessen the impact of the current wage cuts.
Burk said she was concerned about the message the board might be sending to skeptical voters if the board approved a lesser reduction in staff salaries and then asked them to vote in favor of an override. “To say we gave our staff this 1 percent and then to say to the community ‘we want you to give us an override’ — I don’t think that’s what community is asking for,” Burk said. “I think what the community is asking for is decreased class sizes and when we say that’s what we put as our top priority, we would have a better chance of getting an override passed.”
Yeppers, while many in the community were comparing the demands for employee raises to a jobs program using taxpayer money, the
union GEA and their pets on the board refused to listen. The way things worked: GEA was opposed to Staci; therefore, everything that was wrong with GPS was Staci’s fault. The gloves came off when GEA lost any semblance of power or authority they had held through a purported Memorandum of Understanding that by tradition had been *negotiated* with the board and superintendency, the BFFs of the GEA president.
The GPS governing board refused to approve the Certified Memorandum of Understanding, and instead approved a new district policy governing teachers’ rights and privileges. The result of moving the MOU language into district policy is UNPRECEDENTED INPUT and A POWERFUL VOICE FOR TEACHERS. The governing board gave back to teachers what the GEA had taken away.
It appears GEA decided they would get payback or die trying. The screaming meemies who so loudly demanded GPS go hat-in-hand to voters AGAIN in 2013 were furtively working behind the scenes to undermine the vote. Ah, the revenge of GEA, along with former school board members who got themselves unelected and their acolytes. All this, of course, depleted funds available to the district to…wait for it…EDUCATE students in Gilbert Public Schools.
Staci’s opponents made things downright personal prior to the 2013 election:
Members of a pro-override committee for Gilbert Public Schools suspect election-related sabotage is behind the hacking of their website and damage to a supporter’s personal phone line. Citizens for Strong Schools committee member Staci Burk said she discovered Nov. 5 that her phone line had been physically sliced. “Someone hacked into our committee website right before that apparently and took our site down,” said Burk, who also is president of the GPS Governing Board. Liz Nicholls, a committee member and GPS parent who created the website, said she found the site was down on Nov. 2. “It was literally just deleted,” said Nicholls, who has created and maintained websites as a hobby for 14 years. “I was very surprised because usually when someone hacked into a site they added malware, never deleted the site.” Burk said she believes the two incidents are linked because the website contained e-mails among committee members, including one in which she mentioned her home phone.
But a funny thing happened along the way to *financial ruin* when the 2013 override failed: GPS racked up a list of terrific accomplishments and achievements!
The 2013 Mayoral Award goes to the organization that laid the foundation for Gilbert to be known as a community of education excellence — Gilbert Public Schools. Quality education is an essential component to the success of Gilbert’s economic-development efforts to attract and retain businesses. As a community, we strive to build a high-performance education network that will help our K-12 students become college- and career-ready and support our local business workforce needs. In the past 12 months, GPS has had many accomplishments, including a 90 percent-plus graduation rate, the highest number of national board-certified teachers and the 28th-best high school in the nation, Gilbert Classical Academy. Currently, GPS educates more than 38,000 students in 40 schools, including three academies.
There were many examples in which Staci Burk was a voice in the wilderness while she was on the board. The aforementioned screaming meemies
just about peed their pants gasped when Staci refused to bow to pressure to approve a big giveaway of taxpayer money to benefit a rich as Croesus private company:
Apple move may hinge on Gilbert vote. Apple announced on Nov. 4 that it was buying the site and will lease it to a subsidiary that will make sapphire-based glass components for Apple products manufactured around the world. State and local economic-development officials hailed the deal as a huge win for Arizona, elevating the state’s growing profile in the tech world. But several government entities, including Gilbert schools, needed to sign off on the proposal because it has tax implications springing from the Apple site’s hoped-for designation as a foreign-trade zone.
End result: Staci Burk was right. The company filed for bankruptcy at a cost of 890 jobs less than a year later. Staci Burk also battled The GPS Powers That Be over destruction of public records and computer servers that held the email history of the district. This subject is a gift that keeps on giving, and we’ll have lots more to say on this subject soon. [Love ya, Birdies!]
Gilbert school board strengthens public-records policy. Gilbert Public Schools’ board president hinted at a 2013 internal investigation into public-records destruction during a discussion about a new policy to strengthen records management at a school-board meeting Tuesday night (April 8, 2014). The board unanimously approved adding language to an existing records-management policy. The new language includes a statement that public records include electronic documents and that district staff will receive training on records retention. The policy also states that any person who alters, destroys or hides public records is guilty of a class-4 felony. Class-4 felonies carry possible prison sentences of up to three years and nine months.
During a discussion about the policy, Burk said that when “the e-mail system was deleted, there were a number of people that had outstanding public-records requests, including myself, for some of the records that were on that server that was erased.” Burk said some of the documents people had requested were “related to financial dealings and concerns” in the district.
Staci Burk’s service came to a close when she chose to not run for reelection. That decision really upset a lot of apple carts for folks like former board members who had gotten themselves unelected and the GEA / AEA / NEA and their educartel pals. Plenty of people understood that while Staci Burk was stepping down as a member of the Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board, she had served the public at a great personal price:
Gilbert school board president works while battling disease. GPS board president Staci Burk has pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare cardiovascular disease. “They’re (my kids are) very worried about my health and being able to keep up with everything, and I guess their worry and concern has weighed in on whether or not I think I can continue to balance being on the board and supporting them through my health issue,” she said.
Farewell, GPS Board Member Staci Burk. We’d be willing to bet you’ve still got lots of fight left in you! Although the GEA and Planned Parenthood are celebrating the expensive wins of their bought-and-paid-for GPS board members,the educartel took their eyes off the ball and lost the war in the state of Arizona when Diane Douglas was elected as Arizona Superintendent of Education:
“Our victory is clearly a mandate to implement Arizona based and controlled education standards.… My campaign was the clearest way for the citizens of Arizona to reject Common Core and that is what they did with this election,” Douglas said.
It’ll be one hell of a ride. As for GPS, remember as all this plays out, you could have had Westie as Superintendent.