A dispute between two Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board members turned personal Monday, May 4, when the board president accused another board member of sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Following the call to the public during the SOCSD regular public meeting May 4, Governing Board President Tommy Stovall challenged board member Bobbie Surber to defend a public statement she made during the April 6 board meeting — a statement, according to Stovall, that amounted to an accusation of sexism on Stovall and other board members’ parts.
“For those of you who believe Bobbie is being honest and sincere with this charge of discrimination — or, for that matter, anything else written in the letter — I’d like to pose a few questions of my own. Does Bobbie Surber oppose me because she’s homophobic? Does Bobbie Surber oppose Zach Richardson because she’s anti-Semitic? Does Bobbie Surber oppose John Miller because he’s male?” Stovall asked.
Stovall offered no spoken nor written evidence to support his line of reasoning.
Several members of the crowd gasped, speaking out of turn and interrupting Stovall. Several more stood up to leave as members of the board called for order.
“I’d like to respond and I do want to please ask the audience to calm down,” Surber said. “My comments were made because [board member] Karen [McClelland] and I have asked for items to be added to the agenda. We’ve been turned down.”
The comments in question, written in a letter by Surber and read by West Sedona School employee Carol Copp April 6, stated in part, “I question why the only two female board members are continually left out of the conversations between board members and the superintendent regarding West Sedona School, and why the only female administrator has been targeted with such vengeance.”
Continuing her response to Stovall May 4, Surber said, “I won’t respond to ‘am I homophobic,’ or any of the rest. It’s so ridiculous. Don’t get upset? I’m not. That’s not the heart of the matter. What is at the heart of the matter is, we need to stop and start again. We have misstepped, and we can point fingers and we can continue to argue, or we can stop …. So, I’m not going to spend the next meeting justifying whether I’m homophobic or hate Zach Richardson.”
“That was a sarcastic comment,” Stovall said, apparently referencing his earlier comments. “Bobbie, that was a sarcastic comment. I think that was obvious.”
Surber addressed a comment made by resident Patrick Schweiss, agreeing with his assertion that not one individual, but all the board members, were responsible for the situation in the district.
“We’re all responsible, regardless of how we voted,” Surber said. She stood and left the room for a time before returning.
During the meeting’s call to the public, two members of the public offered support for former board president and current board member Zachary Richardson.
Jill Richardson, Zachary Richardson’s wife, said that she had watched this “out-to-get-Zach campaign” without making “knee-jerk” reactions, but ultimately felt the need to address the board and the public, saying, “Do any one of you on the recall committee care about what I’ve gone through, and my family has been through during the school year?
“You just assumed that the Richardsons had done something wrong.”
She turned to a Sedona Red Rock High School teacher and accused her directly of unethical behavior, citing the teacher’s criticism of Zachary Richardson as board president. Jill Richardson asked the teacher if she had considered how difficult the resulting situation was for Jill Richardson’s son, Skylar Richardson — a student in the teacher’s class.
“The incident last August with Zach during a conference has blown way out of proportion,” Jill Richardson said.
When informed by the board that her allotted three minutes of speaking was up, she responded, “Are you kidding me?”
After a brief delay, she was allowed to finish speaking.
“I think the Sedona Red Rock News has been unethical. What happened last August was misunderstood and brought way out of proportion,” she said. She was referring to an alleged incident between Zachary Richardson and a district teacher — an alleged incident and district response documented in the teacher’s official complaint and reported by the NEWS March 6. “I never said it didn’t happen. What I said was that it didn’t happen that way.”
In closing, she turned to the audience and said, “And you should all be ashamed of yourselves for grandstanding at these board meetings and not communicating on an adult level.”
Schweiss spoke next, offering support to Jill Richardson.
“I’d like to applaud Jill,” he said, adding that her family does not deserve what they are going through and that Zachary Richardson should be praised for his efforts on behalf of the district. “It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have the whole story.”
Turning to Zachary Richardson, Schweiss said, “I hope you do not step down.”
“Right now, I’m very tired of this district …. Our kids are victims right now,” Kathy Featherstone said, imploring the board not to come back with a similar solution to the one presented to West Sedona School in 2014 — the splitting of the office of principal in two, resulting in the hiring of Scott Keller as sixth- to eighth-grade principal.
“Please, actively seek the right person with proven results,” Featherstone added, “We need a proven principal now.”
Before the close of the meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss Superintendent David Lykins’ contract. In a 3-2 vote, with Stovall, John D. Miller and Zachary Richardson in favor, Surber and McClelland in opposition, the board approved a three-year contract for Lykins, increasing his yearly pay by approximately 18 percent — from $101,500 to $120,000.
On May 5, Surber offered a rationale for her vote, saying that the board had never decided to offer the $18,500 bonus that had been included in Lykins’ previous contract on an “ongoing
“The way this reads now, his base is $120,000,” she said.
According to Surber, the decision to increase Lykins’ base salary is “simply about capacity,” adding that it does not translate into good faith when upper administration is offered extra pay when teacher salaries remain low.
According to Lykins, the number of teachers and staff resigning or not renewing their 2015-16 school-year contracts is still being determined.