Greenburg: Kirby opinion piece draws out of sync parallels

On March 2, Ms. Pam Kirby, a member of Scottsdale Unified School District’s Governing Board, wrote an article for the Scottsdale Independent.

Jann-Michael Greenburg

Her message centers on the need for setting up a new committee, which she believes is going to be the answer to the issues facing the district. Ms. Kirby’s reason for the establishment of this committee lacks any type of supportive data, so the validity of this proposal is difficult to evaluate.

However, if we are to have faith in Ms. Kirby’s newest idea, there must be a basic acknowledgment from Ms. Kirby that she understands the mistakes that she and the Governing Board have made. As the oft-quoted writer George Santayana has stated, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

The lengths to which an overdue apology is avoided in Ms. Kirby’s letter is remarkable. Instead, Ms. Kirby offers an explanation for her actions that attempts to draw a parallel between the current issues surrounding this District and President George W. Bush’s failed attempt to reform Social Security in the year 2004.

In short, Ms. Kirby postulates that President Bush failed because the “mood (read: priorities and wishes) in the country (read: community) then wasn’t the same as the appetite in the White House (read: Governing Board).”

The parallel that Ms. Kirby seeks to convey uses the analogy that changes to Social Security are like changes that are needed at the District, and that it is simply an issue that the country, like the constituents of the District, do not have the stomach for these changes at this moment in time. Ms. Kirby writes, “Most people recognize […] such changes are likely to be necessary.”

In other words, most members in the community recognize the necessity of the changes Ms. Kirby and the Governing Board push for, and even if such changes do not occur now, ultimately Ms. Kirby and the Governing Board will be vindicated.

Unfortunately, this analogy is entirely incorrect. There is no such similarity between President Bush’s failure and the failures of the Governing Board. The mood of this community and the alleged “mood” of this Board are exactly the same (assuming the Governing Board does want what is best): to make our district great. Unfortunately, that is not possible when the changes the Board made included”

  1. firing Dr. Petersen and then quickly hiring Dr. Birdwell (who Kirby is now rightfully proposing to fire) all within a two-year period;
  2. hiring Laura Smith, the chief financial officer who broke the law by funneling money to a company she owned with her sister;
  3. hiring Louis Hartwell, a chief operating officer whose background was entirely fabricated and whom they are now proposing to fire;
  4. hiring administrators who participated in unlawful bid-rigging — a matter for which the District is now being sued by the Office of the Attorney General; and
  5. hiring a convicted felon to prepare the district’s construction plans and oversee their implementation.

Ms. Kirby cites her assessment of the district and record in the private sector as the foundation for her conclusion that at the time she joined the Governing Board she “found the vision to be flat, and lacking.” According to her, this was the impetus for the above-mentioned “changes” in which she actively participated and led. Now, after executing Kirby’s vision, which must have appeared to Kirby to be upward sloping and fulfilling, the district is in chaos and on the brink of failure.

Questionably, Ms. Kirby blithely states of this needless chaos: “Rather than wallow over [sic] controversy I choose to embrace it.” Ms. Kirby’s private sector background as a finance director at Frito Lay seems to have enabled her to conflate the controversy that ensues from a misguided change in the flavor profile of a beloved consumer product with the gratuitous ruin she has created in our District.

This controversy is, unfortunately, not about a missed earnings estimate; this controversy is about the interrupted lives of students, teachers, and parents. If the citizens have finally had enough of the controversy Kirby embraces, the upcoming overrides could fail, and the district will be even worse off — if such a position were even possible at this point.

Ms. Kirby should have simply apologized and accepted responsibility for her mistakes, asking the community for one last chance to implement a sound plan — one guided by best practices — for finding and selecting this district’s next superintendent.

Instead, Ms. Kirby’s article does nothing more than compress the largest amount of words into the smallest amount of thought. The successes of Coronado High School are admirable, if true, but that is but one school in a district of 30 schools and it does not justify Ms. Kirby’s and the Governing Board’s glaring errors in judgment.

Maya Angelou once recounted a wonderful African Proverb that says we should “beware of the naked man who offers you clothes.”

I am afraid that if Ms. Kirby is to have any credibility with the community, it must come from her resignation from the Board, not a recommendation to set up a new committee.

Editor’s note: Mr. Greenburg is a graduate of Arcadia High School and the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law. He is a Scottsdale resident

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