THE THREE-MEMBER majority of the Amphi School District was ripped out of office this week in a recall election they had dismissed as nothing to worry about.
The reform backers' hold on the district was strengthened by a late ruling from Judge Kenneth Lee of Pima Superior Court that allowed Amphi Board member Ken Smith to keep his seat. For six months, Smith fought County Attorney Barbara LaWall's attempt to remove him over spurious claims that he somehow violated state law because his wife was a member of Amphi's early retirement program.
In the recall election, longtime government watchdog Mary Schuh unseated Board Chairman Gary Woodard by taking 53 percent of the vote; UA spaceflight-project manager Mike Prout, with 65 percent of the vote, dumped Virginia Houston; and Pima Community College instructor Kent Barrabee defeated Richard Scott with 60 percent of the vote.
Of the targeted board members, only Houston fulfilled her obligation to attend the Canyon del Oro graduation ceremony.
The election results capped years of infighting in the Amphi District over polices, teacher salaries and the construction of a new high school near a nesting endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy owl.
While they initially downplayed the recall effort, the incumbents put up a desperate fight in the final weeks before the election. After their repeated court challenges failed to stop the recall, Woodard, Houston and Scott mounted a sly, obfuscated political campaign, mailing Amphi parents and employees with campaign fliers. They distorted and misrepresented the positions of their opponents.
Along the way, they skirted state campaign finance law that requires public disclosure of campaign expenditures and contributions, as well as state and federal privacy laws that were adopted to protect students and parents. Woodard's campaign team repeatedly used student lists from Amphi for their mass mailings to Amphi voters--a tactic decried even by one of their strongest supporters in the Amphi administration.
Woodard isn't talking--at least not to The Weekly. He plunked down $65 for a list of Amphi students and their addresses and then defended that privacy invasion. He did not report that expense in his campaign statement that covered expenditures through April 26. On the next day, however, into the mail went letters to parents of Canyon del Oro High School students from Richard Evers.
A 33-year Amphi employee who spent 12 years as the CDO principal before taking advantage of Amphi's early retirement program in 1996, Evers is pleasant if slightly evasive. He is completing his one-year contract as the CDO interim principal. Evers is a longtime friend of Diana Boros, who won a protracted and unnecessary battle with Woodard and his majority over a call-to-the-audience segment at board meetings. Boros' father taught and coached at CDO; Boros herself, a CDO alumna, managed Schuh's campaign against Woodard.
Defending his grab of the student lists, Woodard told the dailies that administrators came to him to offer their letters of support.
Evers tells a different story. He says he was approached, though he will not reveal by whom. Moreover, Evers will not say who drafted the letter.
"I gave the final approval to the letter," he says.
We asked Principal Evers if he would accept such an answer from a CDO student who did not prepare a report or paper and then told the teacher: "I gave final approval."
Evers seemed to concede the point, but then said: "That's the answer I'm giving."
Aside an asterisk at the bottom of the letter is a line that says it was "reproduced by the committee to re-elect Woodard, Houston and Scott at no cost to Amphitheater District or district taxpayers."
The line is another distortion. First, there is no single, joint campaign committee registered for Woodard, Houston and Scott. Secondly, the letter was campaign propaganda for an audience devised only through Woodard's use of Amphi student records.
Evers expressed concern about the use of those records. He says he was never told that Woodard would be using the list, which Evers says he considers to be "just about confidential."
"I have a concern utilizing a student and parent list," Evers says.
But Woodard didn't stop there. He sent another piece targeted to Amphi teachers in the district's career ladder pay program. At one point he tried to say that he got that list from Pima County voter registration rolls. Those lists do not contain even a hint of information about a teacher being in a certain pay and professional development plan.
Andy Morales, a longtime Amphi teacher and Democratic candidate for Pima County superintendent of schools, complained that Woodard again used Amphi resources to compile that list.
"The county (voter registration) doesn't know or care who is a career ladder teacher," Morales says.
AS IF TO not inflame voters any further, Judge Lee waited well into Election Day to release his opinion reaffirming Ken Smith's seat on the Amphi Board. Smith, who won in a landslide victory in 1998, fell victim to his own Amphi lawyer, Todd Jaeger, and outgoing county Schools Superintendent Anita Lohr. In Arkansas to visit his mother in late November, Smith arrived home to find that Jaeger had complained that he should not be on the board because Smith's wife, Barbara, worked 20 days a year for Amphi. A participant in the Amphi early retirement program, Barbara Smith left her Amphi job four years ago.
State law forbids school board members to have spouses working in the same district.
In court, Jaeger and Deputy County Attorney Paula Wilk were burned by Smith's lawyers Anthony Ching and Bill Risner. They used numerous Amphi memoranda and policies to prove that Barbara Smith was not an current employee and was paid solely for work she had done before retirement.
LaWall, a Democrat who is seeking a second term this year, refused to leave the case alone. With her case decimated, Wilk ruefully told Judge Lee that she had no choice but to file against Smith.
Lee also ordered the county to pay Smith's five-figure legal bill.
"Considering that six months ago, they gave me half a day to resign, this is quite a turnaround," Smith said. "Now I can go about the business I was elected to do."