Commentary: Big challenges await new Mingus Union School Board

It’s an unenviable list of tasks awaiting the new Mingus Union School Board that takes office in January.

First, there is this matter of who will be the district superintendent. It’s doubtful the present board will be able to find an interim or permanent successor to the now-departed Penny Hargrove. It’s more doubtful if they should. Since it will be the new board that has to work with this new superintendent, those board members should be the ones to decide who gets the job.

Then there is the issue of Genie Gee. She’s currently the acting superintendent at Mingus, and at the same time holding down the fort as the high school principal. Make no mistake about it, Ms. Gee is held in the highest regard at Mingus. She’s also a first-year principal, though, now being asked to do double duty. Is she ready for the next step up the administrative ladder? Does she even want the job on a permanent basis, which at Mingus is about a year and a half based on the past 18-year average.

There is also the big question of leadership of the board. Come January, the Mingus Union School Board will be without Jim Ledbetter and Anita Glazar, who collectively have 22 years of service. Ledbetter alone has more experience than the rest of the new Mingus board combined. His and Glazar’s are big shoes to fill.

Two of the incoming members of the Mingus board were not even elected to the job, so it’s unlikely that either of them would be considered to take over as the new board president. Current members Lori Drake and Anthony Lozano have solid experience, but one should not discount the tidal wave of local support Carol Anne Teague is currently riding from the November election. She received more than 7,000 votes, and widely outdistanced a very credible candidate in Jason Finger. What Teague lacks in elective-level experience, she more than makes up for in community support. She would be well received as the new Mingus school board president.

Another challenge awaiting the new Mingus board is eliminating the stigma of transparency problems over the way MUHS conducts the public’s business. A good start would be to once again allow for email links under the names and photos of all school board members on the school website. That was a practice discontinued during the Hargrove administration after the school board was challenged for using private email accounts to conduct school business. People need to be able to quickly and easily communicate with their school board. In this day and age, email is the most convenient way to do it.

While at it, Mingus needs to join the ranks of every other public body in the region by having their school board members assigned official muhs.com or az.us email addresses. School board members, like any other elected official, should be expected to conduct public business with an official public email account.

Likewise, Mingus needs to promptly post draft minutes of its meetings within three working days of a board meeting, and not allow the staff to tinker with those minutes without authorization of the school board by public vote.

Likewise, try asking the person who actually takes the minutes of school board meetings about the need to have those minutes backed up by audio recording. Hargrove told The Verde Independent this was a practice her school board did not support, but it’s common practice elsewhere throughout the Verde Valley with school boards and municipal governments alike.

Any improvements Mingus makes now on transparency issues is only allowing the school board and administration to play catch up to the rest of the Verde Valley’s public bodies.

Hopefully, that will not be good enough for the new school board members, and they will raise the bar to a level where Mingus is the Verde Valley’s measuring stick for open meetings, public records and transparency compliance.

Finally, as was the case with their predecessors, this new Mingus board will be up to its neck with the consolidation issue in the coming year. It is a certainty the consolidation question will be on the ballot in November 2019.

It’s also a certainty that those who support and those who are opposed to a school district merger will make impassioned statements in support of their positions.

That’s healthy.

What has not been healthy is the position espoused by consolidation opponents that if you support consolidation you are anti-Mingus. That, in fact, has been toxic to the entire process. There are many people in the community whose actions speak louder than their words who firmly believe a unified K-12 school district is the best education model for this community, and they are among Mingus’ most staunch supporters.

Eliminating that kind of thinking and behavior is perhaps the biggest, and most important, challenge facing the new Mingus Union School Board.

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