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The Tuesday, Aug. 30, primary election over, but final results are still being tallied, so it’s still too close to call some races on the ballot.

However, looking toward November, there is one key election important to all Sedona area residents — the Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board.

Current board members John D. Miller, Bobbie Surber and Tommy Stovall have all gracefully decided to step aside and not run for reelection, although the ever-loquacious Stovall did initially pull a campaign packet.

We thank these officials for their service on the board.

Serving in such a public position is not easy, especially under the microscope of parents, community members, taxpayers, stakeholders and, yes, newspaper editors.

The relationship between journalists and elected officials is by nature and design adversarial as our solemn duty is to question every policy and financial decision for the benefit of voters and taxpayers.

We truly believe that despite this scrutiny, Miller, Surber, Stovall and board member Karen McClelland do have the best interest of our children, teachers, staff and facilities at heart and made decisions they thought were best, even if we disagreed.

In their place, there are four candidates running for the three open seats. We have scheduled them to appear in our newspaper in alphabetical order over the next four Fridays.

Larry Garnello will appear Sept. 2, Randy Hawley on Sept. 9, Heather Hermen on Sept. 16 and Karl Wiseman on Sept. 23.

Candidate Bruce Steele had been scheduled for Sept. 23, but recently told reporter Ron Eland that he had taken a position as a half-time counselor with SOCSD, which would make him ineligible to also run for the Governing Board.

“My primary interest in the SOCSD has been and continues to be working with students and parents,” Steele stated. “This decision was and is consistent with my desire to make a meaningful contribution to the students and parents of the district.” We thank him for opting to run even if ultimately he stepped aside.

The new board has the opportunity to turn around the last four years, which has seen a complete collapse in confidence in this board, due in large part to the incompetent leadership of board President Zachary Richardson. He faced a recall petition drive ["Recall targets SOCSD board member Richardson"], a ruling by Arizona Attorney General’s Office stating the board he led violated the state’s open meeting laws ["Arizona Attorney General rules Sedona school board violated the law"] and he voted against raising abysmally low teacher salaries ["SOCSD approves raises for teachers in 4-1 vote"]. The coup de grâce under his leadership was the proposed closure of Big Park Community School ["School board sets hearing to close Big Park"] opposed by more than 400 parents who spoke passionately for hours in a public meeting in March ["Public lines up for Big Park"]. Your outrage, dear readers, thankfully kept the school open ["Unanimous: Big Park survives - full story"].

Once the new board is elected, it would behoove Richardson to immediately resign and allow the new board to appoint his replacement. The board must begin anew rather than lurch forward for another two years with the taint of the late unpleasantness.

The other problem facing the board is what to do with the mismanagement under the most “minimally qualified” superintendent in SOCSD’s history, David Lykins — to quote former Principal Russ Snider, Lykins’ former direct supervisor.

Lykins created a dual principalship at West Sedona School ["WSS hires Scott Keller as 2nd principal"] to push out then-Principal Lisa Hirsch, then repealed it ["Keller named WSS’ K-8 principal"] when she quit ["Board accepts departure letter"]. He was caught plagiarizing a quote ["Plagiarism rule can’t be enforced under ‘D. Lykins’"], refuses to speak to the public and press ["Officials obligated to speak to public, especially journalists"], attempted to deny public records requests in violation of state and federal law [Lykins has delayed public records requests regarding libel filed with SOCSD in July], illegally hired a public relations firm ["SOCSD admits violating policy"] and then did not immediately fire the finance director ["SOCSD admits wrongdoing, yet huge questions remain, Mr. Lykins"] when we revealed she fabricated public records*, wasted funds on a poorly planned recruiting trip to Michigan that netted zero new teachers ["Michigan recruiting trip fails"], spearheaded the Big Park closure effort ["If Lykins closes Big Park school, cut his salary by 1/3rd"] and accepted an $18,500 bonus ["Two school board members spar" "Sedona Red Rock High School’s $75 tax per student is wrong, reckless and offensive: ‘No One Pays Ever'"  "Attend SOCSD’s forum and speak to administrators" "District avoided answering parents’ biggest questions" "SOCSD restructuring debate gets heated" and "Administrators’ raise another disastrous call"] while his teachers languish near the poverty line ["Low wages spur teacher exodus"].

Perhaps the new board can better manage Lykins, but if not, should buy out his contract and search for a new, qualified superintendent.

We again thank the departing board members for their service and look forward what the new candidates plan to bring to the table.

Christopher Fox Graham

Managing Editor

*From: "SOCSD admits violating policy":

When asked if the individuals Toscano listed would confirm the conversations [with PR firm she allegedly contacted for quotes] took place, Toscano explicitly told the Sedona Red Rock News, “I would imagine, yeah, I contacted all of them.”

Yet the only vendor to confirm hearing from SOCSD was Kur Carr Group president Steve Carr, whose firm was ultimately awarded the $20,000 contract. The other three vendors said they never spoke to Toscano, nor any SOCSD representative, nor anyone from Sedona.

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