Standing room only, high drama school board meetings have become the new norm within Gilbert Public Schools, recently, as concerned parents sound off about turmoil, dozens of teacher resignations and perceived infighting within the district.
“We have politics and games being played with the school board, which is something I had not experienced when my kids were in school,” Veronica Ross said.
Ross, who sent four kids through GPS, now worries her grandchildren won’t get the same education.
“It’s mostly embarrassing because I want my school to be looked up to,” said student Olivia Wallace. “Not the school that’s being talked about, rumored about.”
However, Wallace said, so far, her learning has not been affected by the headlines.
“I want to make it very clear the drama is not occurring in the classrooms,” said GPS Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Rice.
But Rice said he does want to try to reduce the drama inside the board meetings by limiting public comment to 30 minutes and prioritizing agenda items. Rice said parents who cannot speak during the board meeting are welcome to write statements or send emails to board members.
Some recent meetings have lasted past midnight; one went to 3 a.m. Rice said not only does that affect decision making within the meeting but has potentially taken a toll on the district’s reputation.
“I had teachers go to a statewide meeting,” Rice explained. “Individuals from other districts snickered and giggled and basically said, ‘Oh your board meetings are really entertaining because we watch them streaming online.”
“I don’t find it entertaining,” Ross countered. “I watch it online because I find it frightening. It’s going to impact my grandchildren; it’s going to impact my property value, everything that has to do with our community, everything that makes Gilbert great.”
Ross was one of a dozen parents who protested the new procedure ahead of Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
Parent Shannon Dougherty collected a petition with over 500 signatures to be delivered to Rice during the meeting.
“If anything, in times of conflict you want more communication, not less,” Dougherty said.