This summer, we published a guest perspective written by Heather Hermen, the former president of the Big Park Community School Parent Teacher Student Association, in which she made the first announcement of a forum at which Sedona-Oak Creek School District administrators would address enrollment, finances and criticism.
We were excited questions about the SOCSD that parents had brought to us and which our reporters had investigated over the last two years would finally be addressed by our school district’s leaders in an open, public forum. SOCSD was finally pressured enough to face the music and be fully honest and straightforward with parents, community members and taxpayers.
While the speakers laid out a somewhat bleak future for the district due to state legislators’ failure to honor funding obligations and declining enrollment numbers, the main focus for most parents was answers to their submitted questions.
While some questions did make the stage, there was no question about Superintendent David Lykins’ $18,500 raise in the face of low salaries for classroom teachers — salaries that are among the lowest in the state, which the mass exodus of 40 teachers and staff cited as the main reason they quit last May and June.
Our staff thought the omission of any question about Lykins’ salary was odd, until one parent complained at the forum she had submitted a question. Another parent said she asked about it too, then a third. After our story appeared on Wednesday more parents emailed and called saying they too submitted variations on questions about Lykins’ salary, none of which were asked.
In our forum preview story last week, we asked Lykins about his salary to which he answered, “If I’m asked that, I’ll address that. I anticipate that being asked.” Yet, when the forum occurred, he was never asked. It would appear “If” was Lykins’ escape route. The Arizona School Board Association representative who filtered the questions chose not to ask one of biggest question parents had — either by her choice, by SOCSD’s explicit direction or by sheerly astronomical statistical improbability.
The district plans to form a closed-door community roundtable with 100 “randomly” selected members. Given the ASBA’s definition of “random,” parents must seriously doubt how “random” this roundtable will actually be.
Even if not one of those questions made the stage, why did Lykins not just address it at the start? Parents want to know why he feels an $18,500 raise to a $120,000 total salary is justified when their students’ teachers earn such low wages. Lykins’ salary question is relatively minor in the grand scale of other problems the district faces, but serves as a litmus test for Lykins and the district’s honesty with parents and taxpayers.
There were no questions about teacher salaries. Lykins also claims administration conducts exit interviews when students are pulled from the district, yet many parents said this does not happen either, and submitted questions asking why not. We ran photographic proof this question was asked, not just once but twice.
None of those questions appeared on the district’s website despite the district’s assurance that questions not addressed in the forum would be answered online — yet as of press time, these questions and answers are conspicuously absent.
What else is the district avoiding? What other important questions did not get asked because the district feared answering them? Parents and taxpayers thought they were going to have an honest discussion with their leaders. They demand better. They deserve no less.