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An open letter to our community

Dear CFSD Family,

This letter is a bit different from the newsletters and posts we’ve sent out in the past. While we strived to focus on a positive and informative campaign, we feel we must respond to the false accusations and outright assault on Catalina Foothills School District that our opponents are promoting as this election nears. They’re ratcheting up their misinformation campaign to stoke fear and to hide their ideological agenda, which they want to infuse into our thriving CFSD schools. Don’t be fooled.

BtB is not invested in CFSD schools

The so-called Back to Basics (BtB) candidates had little interest or investment in CFSD before now. One candidate’s children graduated 20 years ago, and another, a retiree, recently moved to Tucson from out of state. Neither one attended a single board meeting before announcing their candidacies. The third candidate has a history of only engaging minimally and intermittently. These candidates have little personal knowledge of or experience with the policies, teaching, and learning in our schools.

BtB’s claim that there has not been a new board member elected since 2010 is an outright lie. In fact, Carole Siegler is the only current board member who was on the board in 2010. Eileen Jackson was first elected in 2012. She was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. Amy Bhola and Amy Krauss were first elected in 2014, and were re-elected in 2018. Doug Hadley was first elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020. John Bergan was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. He sadly passed away in 2016. Sherri Silverberg was appointed by the Pima County School Superintendent to an interim 8-month term the same year.

Carole was recently honored for her 26 years of board service, which was recognized by the naming of the board room in her honor. Longevity of board service is an asset, because with experience comes knowledge.

BtB refuses to engage with the community

Voters should ask themselves why the BtB candidates refused to participate in the Arizona Daily Star candidate forum, the Secular AZ candidate forum, and KVOA’s October 23 report by Shelle Jackson. Even their supporters refused to be interviewed or verify a simple letter to the editor of the Desert Leaf. A reasonable conclusion is that BtB can’t justify their platform under scrutiny. BtB’s reliance on one-way communication is another red flag that signals their lack of fluency and knowledge about the issues impacting public education, and CFSD, today.

BtB disparages student and teacher accomplishments

Another troubling aspect of BtB’s platform is that it is wholly negative - a topic Amy Krauss explored in detail in her Arizona Daily Star guest opinion. Have you ever read one positive thing that any one of the candidates said about any aspect of CFSD? Even in their candidate opinion article for the Star, in which they wrote that “there are many things that CFSD does well,” they failed to identify a single one. School board members should know our schools well enough to have pride in the accomplishments of our students, teachers, and in the district-wide culture that promotes students’ academic and personal excellence.

Instead, BtB disparages our hard-working students and wonderful teachers. We think about how badly a student or teacher must feel when passing by BtB signs that wrongly claim a huge percentage of CFSD students are not proficient in math and English. It’s a ridiculous assertion that we’ve previously debunked in Amy Bhola's Arizona Daily Star guest opinion. You don’t have to take a deep dive into the data to know that a school district that graduates 97.5% of its students, 90% of whom go on to college, is not underperforming. A valuable school board member should want to understand the purpose and meaning of each type of standardized test, and to integrate that information with the many other measurements of academic achievement that CFSD uses to ensure all students are meeting academic standards. CFSD students do that, and more.

We are proud of these statistics, particularly because CFSD is non-selective, meaning students don’t take an entrance exam. We educate every student who walks through our doors. BtB, however, compares CFSD to selective schools in order to falsely claim that our ranking is slipping. Not only does this diminish the accomplishments of our students and teachers, but voters should question a strategy that seeks to paint a bleak (and untrue) picture of CFSD. The truth is that CFSD continues to be recognized as the top non-selective school district in Arizona.

BtB doesn't understand how boards function

BtB says the CFSD Board operates in the shadows. In fact, everything the Board discusses and decides takes place at a public meeting, except for the few matters that are statutorily reserved for executive session. Public comment is welcome at every meeting, which are held on a regular day, time, and location. The agenda is posted in advance. Meeting minutes are summarized in the Boarder, which is disseminated by each school, and the detailed minutes are available online.

If you’ve ever attended a board meeting, you know that the vast majority of items on the agenda relate to matters that are routine (approval of field trip itineraries, fee schedules, personnel changes, adapting policies to changes in the law, and the like). This is not to say that routine matters are not important, they are, but it largely explains why most items pass without a dissenting vote. The more significant reason for consensus among Board members is that prior to a vote, the process allows for study, reflection, questioning, and amendment. Therefore, by the time a vote takes place, each individual board member has weighed in on the merits of the matter. The final vote reflects a Board that is working collaboratively with one another and with district administrators, a vital component of CFSD’s success.

BtB will destroy career-readiness curriculum

Contrary to BtB’s claims, curriculum adoption and revision offers opportunity for even greater parental input. The entire curriculum, including supporting materials and textbooks, is available for review online or in person, for a full 60 days before the Board acts. There is a parent comment form on the curriculum review website. Far from discouraging parental involvement, CFSD invites parents to scrutinize, question, and comment (in multiple venues) prior to any new curriculum being voted on by the board.

BtB’s attack on CFSD’s counseling program, social and emotional learning, and LGBTQIA+ resources is both misguided and dangerous. Demonstrating once again their lack of critical thinking, BtB criticizes SEL that is based on the CASEL model, but CFSD’s SEL curriculum is adopted from the American Association of School Counselors. The Arizona Daily Star published a wonderful article by Gina addressing the relationship between SEL and workplace success. With respect to resources for students, we couldn’t say it any more powerfully than did the 30 health care professionals who signed a letter warning of the harm students will suffer if BtB succeeds in eliminating resources for families of LGBTQIA+ students. Nothing in the counseling curriculum teaches gender identity or gender ideology, nor are students asked to declare their preferred pronouns. This is pure homophobic sophistry.

BtB will eliminate classes and programs across all K-12 grades

Another sleight of hand is BtB’s nonsensical suggestion that CFSD is fiscally irresponsible in a manner that disfavors resident students. They suggest they can limit open enrollment and transfer capital funds to maintenance and operation. They can’t, both are unlawful. BtB also cannot achieve smaller classes by reducing overall enrollment in the district. Fewer students mean less money with which to pay teachers, while reducing class size requires more teachers. We’ve previously addressed school funding issues in detail. A smaller budget will lead to teachers being laid off, larger class sizes, and the elimination of the classes and programs BtB deems to not be “basic”.

A cynic might say that is precisely BtB’s ultimate goal: to eliminate the variety of rigorous academic offerings and robust programs that attract students from over 30 zip codes to CFSD, so they won’t come. Close schools if necessary, so long as the remaining ones teach primarily resident students, and only the subjects that BtB values. This cannot be the legacy of CFSD.

Alarm bells should be sounding

Are there things the district and the board could improve upon? Of course! There is always room for improvement. BtB isn’t seeking improvement, however. They are seeking to make fundamental changes to CFSD’s strategic plan, mission statement and core values. They don’t want to give all parents the right to be heard, they want to hear only the voices of parents who agree with their ideology and political bent. They will ban books, introduce religious bias into the core curriculum (which they intend to write), and micromanage how teachers teach, among other nefarious goals.

BtB is right about one thing. Alarm bells should be sounding. Every parent should be worried about the future of their child’s education in CFSD if the BtB candidates are elected.

If you already have children in CFSD schools, then you know us. You know that we have been dedicated district volunteers for decades. You know that we are accessible and responsive. You know that we take pride in the District’s accomplishments and want to see that all current and future students continue to achieve academic and personal success. That’s why our mantra is “ensuring that every student has an equal opportunity to thrive.”

Vote for Amy B, Amy K, and Gina

Show your support for our distinguished school district by voting for Amy Bhola, Amy Krauss, and Gina Mehmert. We also ask that you vote in favor of Propositions 488, 489, and 490 to continue sources of critical funding that do not raise the tax rate. Reach out to your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who reside within CFSD boundaries to encourage them to do this same. This indeed is a critical election for our beloved school district.

With gratitude and respect for our CFSD Family,

Amy Bhola, Amy Krauss, and Gina Mehmert

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