News & Opinion » Currents Feature

Expelled

Karen Close knocks out Sherrylyn Young in the Tanque Verde recall.

by

comment
In the Tanque Verde Valley, people will soon learn if there is life after high school.

Or life after the high school.

Voters in the Tanque Verde Unified School District last week resoundingly yanked Dr. Sherrylyn Young from her seat on the school board and replaced her with Karen Close, a Tanque Verde newcomer who served on a Yakima, Wash., school board for 18 years.

More than 65 percent of Tanque Verde voters cut Young's first term short by a year. Turnout among the 7,413 voters was better than 51 percent, 11 points higher than turnout for the city's mayoral election.

Close's official appointment was delayed slightly by the Veterans Day holiday. The Pima County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve the canvass on Nov. 18, and Close is to be sworn in for her first board meeting two days later.

The vote was the latest in the 117-year-old school district, where the small enrollment of 1,600 students and tranquil setting belies the history of recall and bitter disputes. Those disputes in recent years have sprung from plans for a high school. Tanque Verde students are educated at two elementary schools and one, three-year junior high before most of them move on to Sabino High School in the Tucson Unified School District.

Young led the ticket in 2000 elections while running on a pro-high school platform. A subsequent advisory referendum showed support for the high school. Board members Lisa South and Doug Hughes, the other legs in the pro-high school majority, finished atop the five-person field for two seats last year.

But support for the high school eroded because of shaky economic justifications, including shrinking enrollment and questions over the district's two poorly planned real estate deals for the high school site. The first purchase was rescinded, but at cost to Tanque Verde, because the property was not within district boundaries.

And the next site, at Catalina Highway and Snyder Road, has been under a cloud and part of litigation by opponents of the high school. Still, district taxpayers have already been soaked for, on average, $120 this year for high school-related costs.

Close is expected to convert Mike Brown and Craig Naas from minority to board majority. Brown and Naas have been beaten down on every substantive matter by Young, Hughes and South.

Still, Brown said he did not feel particularly liberated by Close's victory, which he said was fueled "by the great sentiment of district voters that they don't want the high school."

Among his first, renewed motions will be to ask for an investigation in the district's two land deals for high school property. Brown's earlier attempt to "lift the cloud" through an investigation was summarily shot down by Young, Hughes and South.

Brown and other opponents of the high school say that the subsidies the under-enrolled school will need will strip funding from the district's highly rated K-9 program.

And he said the high school can be stopped because the Arizona Schools Facilities Board will not take up the issue of Tanque Verde funding until its December meeting.

Also that month, the TUSD board is to vote on a proposal to somehow guarantee Tanque Verde students seats at Sabino at specified costs to Tanque Verde.

Regardless of the recall vote, other ties bind the two districts. South gave up her Tanque Verde teaching job to comply with state law that forbids district employees from serving on the district governing board; she then took a teaching job at TUSD. Young's husband, lawyer Lyle Aldridge, has been a fixture at her board meetings and has served as a political adviser to his wife. He also wrote a long letter to recall backers threatening them with a lawsuit if they didn't tame their criticism. And although TUSD officially worked against the high school his wife supported, Aldridge has benefited in recent years with work he and his law firm Gabroy Rollman & Bosse have done for TUSD.

Add a comment