Today’s Gilbert Public Schools Scandals Mimic the Past

Today’s April Fools are those in the GPS Clown Car.  Recent revelations from the White Castle (the district offices, also known as the Temple of Doom) of Gilbert Public Schools are causing consternation at many levels. Westie is consternated, too, because we didn’t know *consternated* was a real word until now. The New Gang of GOBs (Good Old Boys) seems to be like lunatics that have taken over the asylum. We keep running into evidence that everything old is new again, so Westie is working overtime to track down what in the world is happening at the top levels of GPS under the *leadership* of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto. 

Where to begin? “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Given the scandalous situation of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s *alleged* inappropriate relationship with her former Executive Director of Technology Charles Stevin Smith, we thought we would look at past GPS scandals.

But first, let’s pass along a lesson in public relations from none other than the fabulous Alicia Florrick! On The Good Wife, Alicia endures a lot of public humiliation because of her husband, who is the Governor of Illinois. Here is her advice to that philanderer, which perhaps Christina Kishimoto could use:

Zip your pants, shut your mouth and stop banging the help.

We looked at the beginning of the Allison Ascendancy (which is not a Big Bang Theory TV episode).  Showing they can’t learn the lessons of a history they know nothing about, the New Gang of GOBs is repeating a scenario similar to something GPS endured a few years back. A board member suddenly resigned just as interviews were about to begin for a new GPS Superintendent after Brad Barrett got fed up with diva drama  suddenly announced his resignation in November 2007.

The decision comes a week after board member Traci Klein abruptly resigned without explanation. … Candidates for the job were Dave Allison, Gayle Blanchard, Barb VeNard and Ken James. Each had worked for the district for at least 15 years.

The GPS board, under the presidency of Helen Hollands, had decided to keep things in-house and not go outside of GPS for candidates for the office of superintendent. The governing board sleazed through a suspiciously speedy selection process and selected Dave Allison as superintendent in February 2008. The back-room board maneuvering caught public attention, not in a good way.

Only district employees were invited to apply for the position … The governing board finished its final interview Feb. 5 in a closed session. That is the same day Traci Klein abruptly resigned from the board, which is now down to four members. None of the interviews were done in public, and none of the candidates have talked about their plans if they become the next superintendent.

How many people in Westie’s audience remember what happened that caused Traci Klein to resign so suddenly? Three words keep coming up in conversation: FOIA text messages. Someone did that, and a cascade of consequences resulted. Back in the day, a lot of people really, really believed that electronic communications were not public records. We still see GPS trying to make that case: they just ain’t gonna part with them electronic files. Don’t get Westie started on their stupid reasons for refusing to comprehend the term “metadata.” That for sure must be something evil and uncontrollable. But we digress.

GPS lost some good administrators and/or members of the Original Loose Zipper Brigade in the aftermath of selecting Dave Allison as superintendent. It was fun and games, smoke and mirrors and shady shenanigans all rolled into one big hot mess. Keep this in mind as events unfold in the latest GPS scandals; Westie predicts that decisions made to hire certain persons and to promote them will be highlighted in developments that are coming to light. The light will keep shining!

One point of history that the New Gang of GOBs probably doesn’t know is that Lily Tram was named to fill the vacant position on the GPS governing board. Check out all the familiar names of people who threw their hats into the ring to replace Governing Board member Traci Klein:

Thirteen Gilbert residents have applied to fill the vacancy on the Gilbert Unified School District governing board after board member Traci Klein abruptly resigned earlier this month.

When Tram was selected to fill Traci Klein’s term, she was not hailed by the Gilbert community.  The Maricopa County Superintendent’s Office had sole discretion over filling the vacancy.  The office sorted through more than a dozen applications, interviewed a few people and then named Tram to finish out a four-year term. Plenty of folks, especially people that Christina Kishimoto calls *community leaders,* were still angry two years later when another governing board vacancy occurred. They instituted regime change:

Two years ago, school district and governing board officials, including philanthropist and then-Gilbert governing board member Elaine Morrison, complained that they were left out of the county superintendent’s decision to appoint Tram. They complained they didn’t know her – and many of the other candidates who had applied – and wanted to be involved in the selection process.

Tram has been board president a couple of times, and she’s famous in Gilbert political circles for Tram’s Rule, where she refused to put anything on the agenda for a board meeting until the board members first voted on putting that topic on an agenda. Arizona’s Open Meeting Law doesn’t allow board members to discuss something that’s not on a properly posted agenda, so GPS board members had to vote on whether or not to consider agenda items without knowing what the proposed discussion would be about. Convoluted? You betcha! Tram also was famous for complaining about the cost and inconvenience of complying with public records laws. Westie predicts the public will be hearing plenty more about Tram’s muscle-bound belligerent presidency of the GPS Governing Board in the near future.

Tram’s disdain for complying with Arizona’s Open Meeting Laws was on full display in November 2015 when she tried to brush off OML violations substantiated by the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team. Tram knows full well that when the Attorney General dismisses a complaint without findings that OML was violated, there is no question that there was no violation. Click the link to see a letter about 2014 OML complaints that were not substantiated. Compare that to the letter putting the GPS board and superintendency under six months of OML monitoring. One more comparison: the letter telling GPS to talk about their OML violations during a public meeting because they continued to violate OML.

If you wondered about the fate of the infamous “List” that was the subject of an OML complaint in 2014, here it is. The most important thing to note is that these complaints were filed in 2014 under then-president Staci Burk. It must have chafed some cheeks of folks like Suzy Horvath, Kristen Anderson and Matthew Moix to receive this message from the AG: “Nothing suggests that a quorum of the Board members communicated with each other about the staff members outside of a public meeting in violation of the law. This matter is now closed.”

People who complain loudly about how unfair it was to force Tram and *her* board to attend OML training are missing many points. One is that Tram filed her own OML complaints when she was not president of the governing board. One of Tram’s OML complaints was against Julie Smith. The AG’s office wasn’t amused that Tram tried to file a complaint without signing it, which would be the kind of thing that Tram would excoriate others for doing. So SAVE your vapid excuses about Tram’s behavior, folks.



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