By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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The official reasons include low student achievement and the fact that Donofrio is the only Murphy administrator with a multiple-year contract.
But every superintendent in the state has a multiple-year contract. And if Murphy test scores are among the lowest in the city, they have been there since the beginning of time. The district contains one of the highest-risk populations of kids in Arizona. More than 90 percent of Murphy students live in poverty. Nearly 80 percent come from families who do not speak English. More than 40 percent will change schools during any given year. Murphy parents have reason to be concerned about their children's academic success, or lack of it. But nearly everyone in or around the district is quick to say that the move against Donofrio has nothing to do with children or education.
That move was about his friendship with Pat Ortiz, who served on the school board for 16 years and then ran against Solomon Leija in a recall election. A majority of the board was on the opposite side.
"This is a way to get back at me," Ortiz says. "It makes me sick."
Donofrio refused to comment on the matter.
A group led by Ortiz has taken out recall petitions against the three board members who voted not to renew Donofrio's contract. They are still circulating.
The Price of Politics
Solomon Leija sits behind a table at the union hall that serves as his campaign headquarters and ticks off all the money lost to District 7. It's an odd recitation; most politicians would avoid admitting they had hurt their constituents for political purposes.
Not Leija. He blames his opponents for the losses.
For starters, he notes, there's the Community Development Block Grants, federal funding provided to organizations and agencies that focus on improving the standard of living in poor neighborhoods. The program is administered by the city, and applicants are funded by a committee of people appointed from various council districts. Traditionally, south and west Phoenix are big recipients, but it's a get-in-there-and-grab kind of process.
"In the CDBG process that year [during the recall], my district lost out on millions. I could have been more vigilant to make sure that District 7 was receiving the funds that it was intended for.
"Look at the Economic Enterprise Zone [another federal target program]. Those boundaries were formed during my recall. They excluded four or five neighborhoods in my district. They should have been included, and they were not, because I was out here fighting for my political life," Leija says, even though the enterprise zone program was compiled by a committee separate from the city council. "The money that we're going to be losing as a result of those boundaries is incredible. The federal government requires to combine funds around goals and boundaries of the enterprise zone," he says. "So even in the future, we're going to be losing millions, and we can't go back and redo the past."
Coming together to work for the community's future doesn't appear anywhere on the southwest horizon, either.
Leija still has a challenger for his council seat--Doug Linger, who inherited most of Gomez's supporters when she left the race. And Leija has no time to play nice with the opposition.
"Last time I was not reacting to it," Leija says. "Now, my campaign is running smooth, and I feel like I can counter their lies."
If it is authorized, a recall of three school board members will cost the Murphy School District some $8,000. Ortiz says the price for not pushing for recall would be much higher. "We can't let these people, who are so power hungry, come in and take over something that so many people have worked so hard to build," she says. Politics are important in southwest Phoenix, because government is important there. It matters who's in charge, not as much because of who wins, but because of who loses.
"People who think that the city council, or rather that the services that they receive from the city, are just going to come anyway don't know how the process works," Leija says. The people in the Great Society of southwest Phoenix appear to know very well how the process works.