School Daze

The Wilson school district is at it -- again

Thus, Robles' and Carillo's appearance at the ceremony (accompanied by supporters, some of whom stood outside the county building with signs reading "Lies, lies, lies") was "real strange," Kennedy says.

She referred further inquiries to Bill FitzGerald, a spokesman for the County Attorney's office. But he refused to comment beyond saying that his office was investigating election improprieties.

This latest affront is just one more step in what Robles and some community members believe is the county's master plan of taking over the tiny yet lucrative district and replacing duly elected board members with more malleable appointees. The district, many of whose students are low-income, sits in a largely industrial area, which provides it with one of the largest tax bases in the state.

Mercedes Robles and Evangeline Carillo are still waiting to serve the community that elected them.
Emily Piraino
Mercedes Robles and Evangeline Carillo are still waiting to serve the community that elected them.

Former board member Pete Ruiz suspects that the county "may be planning to come in, take over and annex us to Phoenix Elementary. They can't control us, and they're annoyed."

But others say Wilson has struggled long enough, and circumstances are ideal for a takeover by the county, which they argue would be better able to address the needs of the district than those elected by its residents.

Arizona Education Association president Penny Kotterman strongly supports such action. The AEA is Arizona's largest professional organization and, with 30,000 members, is a lobbying force to reckon with.

The AEA has complained often and loudly about Robles and the Wilson district. The Attorney General investigated Robles in 1999 for allegations that she pilfered school property and sold it at yard sales, used district funds to fly herself and her boyfriend to Maui, and unduly influenced the Christmas in April program to renovate her mother's house. The case was closed, and no charges were ever filed against Robles, who characterizes the accusations as a "personal vendetta" stemming from her support of Romero and the complaints against Sudea and Lopez.

Kotterman, who has served as AEA president for the past five years, says Wilson has been problematic since she took office, and the situation is only increasing in intensity.

"This district has a long history of difficulty in relationships between staff, teachers, support employees, the community and the governing body," Kotterman says, adding that fear of harassment and intimidation have community members and district employees scared to speak out, should their opinions differ from those of the governing board.

In Kotterman's view, the most logical answer to the problems plaguing Wilson is for an outside agency to take control. Intervention and repair are sorely needed, she believes.

"Let the county run the district for a while until solutions are reached and processes are in place to help governing board members work collaboratively with parents and the community," Kotterman says. "I would suggest bringing in outside expertise and electing a governing board that is truly supportive of the district."

And that makes Robles mad. "If you're not here for the children, you shouldn't be here," she says. "Since when does the county have the authority to circumvent the will of the people?"

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