By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
After Joyce Buekers rallied the troops, the next logical step in most school districts would have been to organize a recall. In fact, Buekers invited David Lerner--the mastermind behind last year's successful recall of Washington School District board member Bob Hill--to speak last April at an "ad hoc" meeting of the District Support Group.
The "ad" part of "ad hoc" turned out to be "ad"ministrators. Among the ten people in attendance, according to Buekers' typed minutes, were acting superintendent Frank Canady, Simis principal Joanne Johnson and Rose Lane principal Margie Kesler.
Canady confirmed that he attended the meeting. Johnson did not respond to calls from New Times. Kesler, who now works for another district, refused to comment.
After listening to Lerner's tales of grueling hours and bitter debates, Buekers decided she lacked the energy for a recall. Aeed warned the group of Berry's possible recriminations. But the real clincher, parent Sandi Long admits, was the idea that they might lose.
"If you don't defeat somebody," she says, "you've crowned a queen."
Buekers and her Madison District Support Group were not at a standstill for long. R. Robert Jones took the helm in May as the district's superintendent. He recalls that parents came to him on his first day on the job, bursting with complaints about Berry.
"I'm the only one the board hires and fires. . . . I was a little uncomfortable" approaching Berry about her alleged behavior, Jones admits.
He had been expecting some peace and quiet after a stint as an administrator with the Deer Valley schools--which made headlines in 1992 when the superintendent used hidden cameras to try to capture a principal's alleged sexual antics on tape. But Jones didn't have to approach Berry, because he, Herf and the board itself collaborated on the Procedure, a policy to control public outbursts by allowing the board to investigate and censure its members.
The board gave its unanimous approval on June 8.
Complaints about Berry started trickling in, just days after the Procedure was enacted. Petitions and letters with a total of 37 names (many signers were Junior Leaguers and their spouses) converged on Jones' office. An investigation was demanded.
In letters addressed to Jones, Madison parents David and Martha Lee complained that Berry had visited their daughter's classroom and disrupted her work; another parent wrote that Berry had tried to convince him to complain about his child's teacher.
Berry responded that her board position doesn't strip her of her rights, as a parent, to visit classrooms during observation times or to speak to other parents about teachers.
The rest of the complaints consisted mainly of allegations that Berry intimidated and threatened district staff and parents with her husband's legal stationery and her sharp tongue. Buekers complained of verbal abuse, intimidation of teachers, sharing of confidential board information and interference with Canady's work.
Aeed's allegations dated to 1988, and included charges of verbal abuse, the use of Rick Berry's legal stationery and failure to get signatures on nominating petitions Berry circulated in a 1990 election. She says Berry lied in 1991 about Aeed's involvement in a political campaign. Berry denied the specific allegations, and said others were too vague to answer. To Aeed she wrote, "During my seven years on the Madison Governing Board Ms. Aeeds [sic] has made a vocation of tracking my whereabouts as a private citizen of the community. . . . Ms. Aeeds needs to move on with her life and get over losing the election." As for Buekers: "She has provided no specific information nor are her statements truthful. Fortunately, the citizens of the Madison community are now keenly aware that Ms. Beukers [sic] has a history of making untruthful statements while attempting to hide behind the cloak of Christianity." @rule:That was not Berry's only response to the news that she was being investigated.
In an about-face, she announced that she had researched the law herself and had discovered that Herf had given the board bad advice regarding the Procedure. State law does not specifically grant the board the right to investigate and censure its own members, and therefore the right did not exist, she told Herf and the board. Herf maintains that the Procedure is legal.
Berry now says, "The bottom line is . . . the legislature doesn't give the school boards any authority to do this stuff, basically because they realize that most of you [school-board members] have never gone to college, most of you are extremely uneducated and unsophisticated and you could get yourselves chasing the tail forever and not concentrating on what your legislative authority is, which is running the schools."
Board member Mindy Mackey concurred with Berry, and requested a written opinion from the Maricopa County Attorney. (The request was made, and deputy county attorney Dean Wolcott responded in July. He declined to provide the opinion, because the district had already retained Herf as private counsel and was, by that time, in litigation.)
Berry threatened to sue the other three members--Harter, Karpman and Foster--if they refused to repeal the Procedure and call off the investigation.
They refused. So for the first time in the memories of even her staunchest detractors, Carolyne Berry followed through on one of her threats. She sued the Madison School Board.