Enslaved by the Bell

Does the newest member of the state Board of Education really believe that Satan lurks in Arizona classrooms?

For 12 years, Muller has taught second, fourth and fifth grade at the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in the Mesa Unified School District. Symington has held Franklin, which has become widely known for its stripped-down, back-to-basics curriculum, as a model for other schools in the state to follow.

Muller went before the Senate Education Subcommittee for her confirmation hearing on January 16. Democrat Mary Hartley cast the seven-member committee's sole dissenting vote, saying she was bothered by Muller's opposition to introducing elementary students to foreign languages.

Hartley is also wary of Martin, whose confirmation hearing was scheduled for January 30.

"I have a tendency to worry about anyone who doesn't believe, or who allies herself with people who don't believe, in the separation of church and state," Hartley says.

Still, the question remains, what impact will Martin have on the board, and on educational policies in Arizona?

So far, a calm has prevailed. Fellow board member Jim Ullman, an attorney specializing in school law and a moderate on education issues, praises Martin for her willingness to listen to all sides of an argument.

"I may have even managed to convince her of the rightness of my views, once," Ullman adds, declining to elaborate.

Likewise, Lisa Graham Keegan, the state superintendent of public instruction and another moderate, has praised Martin as "a hardworking board member who . . . is willing to hear all sides of an issue . . ."

But Hartley says she can see problems looming once the board has to contend with such thorny issues as multiculturalism and sex and AIDS education. Fellow Education Committee member and conservative Mesa Republican Senator Rusty Bowers, who, along with Martin, also spoke to the library gathering in May 1994, did not return phone calls.

Though Martin has not specifically addressed vouchers--state funds paid for private-school tuition--in any of her writings, Berliner says that the Christian right's track record on the issue is clear. Symington has been an outspoken advocate of vouchers.

"Any religious fundamentalist sitting on a board of education has a built-in conflict of interest on the vouchers issue," warns Berliner. "As a group, they have traditionally supported vouchers because they are destructive to public education, an institution that they see as fundamentally harmful to children. And if public education improves, then vouchers lose.

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