Kathy Knecht is just completing the final year of her first four-year term on the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board.
When asked why she was running for a second term, Knecht said, "I still care deeply about the educational well-being of the children in the school district, and my own children will be in the district six more years. I want to make sure the interests of parents are represented on our school board."
She said the district has "weathered the most difficult financial crisis ever," and so far, it has managed to protect programs, and minimize the impact on students and the teachers. "We've installed a new administration that handled this crisis in an open, transparent, highly communicative way," she said. "We're engaging the community more than ever before. And the board members, while ideologicaly opposed to one another, manages to operate in public with respect and decorum."
In the future, she said, the board needs to keep its focus on curriculum and instruction, and the long-term outcomes for district students.
"You have to invest the limited amount of money we have in ways that are truly going to impact learning," Knecht said. "I support investing in research-proven environments that enhance learning. We have to use our resources to recruit and retain the highest quality teachers. Part of that is making sure class sizes aren't unmanageable.
"In our high schools, we have multiple classes that are approaching 40 kids. How can we expect a teacher to assign 40? That's 40 kids times three sections. You get to a point, 40 kids in a classroom, approaches the impossibility to teach that many kids."
"So, teachers are not just doing their own instruction, but doing other jobs that aides or secretaries, or whomever, used to be able to take up some of the slack for them. Teachers are doing everything. We've cut back on administration and support services, so teachers are doing it all."
How do we fix that?
"It's very hard at a school board level, because of the amount of resources the state is giving to education; it is pathetic," Knecht said. "We're doing amazing things with funding that is ranked 50th in the nation. Our kids are worth more than that."
She admits to being frustrated.
"Another role of the school board is, hopefully, I can be heard, carrying the message that our public schools and our kids who attend them are worth more than the investment by our Legislature," Knecht said.
Regarding food services provided by the district, Knecht had nothing but praise.
"First and foremost, I look to the kids first," she said. "If a kid is hungry, how can you not feed that kid? How could you not feed a child? If you don't feed that child, there's virtually no chance for that child to learn.
"No. 2, our food services are not a financial burden on our school district. On the contrary, the federal government pays for students who are under a certain poverty level. That's a federal law.
"No. 3, it is a service to our community. In fact, for families such as mine, who like to take advantage of a relatively low-cost lunch, the school district earns revenue. And from the perspective of a busy mom, I appreciate that service being available to me and my family."
Knecht calls herself "a builder."
She said, "I am there to make things better. I have experience now, I have a positive outlook, I engage people - parents, teachers, administrators, community members, a collaborative style, and I have a deep, deep passion for serving children. Their future is our future - we can't escape that.
She is the mother of two children; one in high school, one in elementary school.
"I'm a huge believer in the arts and what it does for learning, and just an established community leader that is a champion for public district schools," she said. "Our neighborhood, traditional schools are ones the state has abandoned, and the ones our country and communities depend upon to preserve our democracy as we know it."
Eddie Smith is a Glendale fire captain, who has spent two years representing firefighters at the state Legislature. He said that involves protecting state-shared revenues and the public safety retirement system. He is also president of Glendale's Hope, a nonprofit of Glendale Firefighter Charities.
"Most of the work we do is for children in need," he said.
Smith has lived in the Peoria Unified School District since 1998. He is married to Julie, a firefighter paramedic with Gila River Fire Department. The couple has three boys: Justin, 16, a junior at Centennial High School; Joey, 13, an eighth-grader at Copperwood Elementary; and Jon, 10, a fifth-grader at Copperwood.
This is Smith's first foray into elective office. He said he did not know what to expect, but that he and his wife are appreciative of the district. At their children's elementary school, he said the staff was like one big family, and the district provides a quality education.
"From sports to orchestra, choir, school government, (our children) have had those opportunities," he said.
Unlike other candidates who come in and want to change things, Smith said he wants to be a part of something special and agrees with the direction the district is going.
He also likes the job the district's food services department is doing. As a firefighter, he described the "absolute poverty" he sees on calls.
He asked how kids are expected to learn when they are living under certain economic conditions with no shelter, clothing or food.
"These kids that come in may not have the opportunity to bring their lunch to school," Smith said. "Is there a cost to it? Yes. The amount of cost to have kids go hungry, I can't do that."
He said he believes in feeding kids, but make sure that what they eat is healthy, adding that it helps them in the classroom after lunch.
"If we cut out free and reduced meals, the money is going to go to another state," he said. "It's going to go somewhere, So, if our citizens are paying the taxes, we should get it in our district, our state."
Smith said he was happy with how the district is handling the economic recession. Even with a $42 million loss in funds, he said teachers, administrators, the superintendent and his staff and governing board have been able to cope with the loss and "still supply quality education. They've literally done everything."
When he went to school, Smith said, there was nothing extra.
"My kids have opportunities," he said. "Every kid's unique. If an offering is not at their school, they can attend another school."
The district offers technology, arts and dance classes, he said, all sorts of different programs that make it competitive with private and charter schools.
"I support parents having those choices, private or charter," he said. "But for public schools to be successful, they have to be creative to compete."
The opportunities hit home, Smith said, when his oldest son began high school. He applied and received a variance to attend Centennial High School.
"I like the discipline and also the smaller learning communities," he said. "It's a small school within a school with smaller classrooms (a two-year program). It was important to me my kids get that special attention."
Smith made a final comment.
"The thing I want most to bring to the table is I'm a happy parent," he said. "No campaign promises. I promise a voice of pragmatism, willing to listen to both sides of an issue and any decision will be for the most good for the most people. And, in this case, what's going to do the most good for our students to help them be productive in society when they get older."
John Rosado and Jane Schutte
John Rosado and Jane Schutte are running as a team, they said, "Because we need both those seats to bring education back to the parents and electorate."
Schutte has lived in the PUSD 14 years, while Rosado has been in the district 1-1/2 years. Before that, he lived in Scottsdale.
Rosado said the district is in pretty good shape and above average for the Valley and state.
"What got me started was the Goldwater study," he said.
Rosado quoted statistics from the study that show 75 percent of students in the Valley don't know who the first President is, and 80 percent don't know what the Bill of Rights are.
"My question is if you don't know what the Bill of Rights are, how can you defend them?" Rosado said. "As a governing board member, the curriculum would be added or tested. When (students) go into the ninth grade, they would be taught civics and basic history. I have not found that the Peoria school system is any different as far as teaching history or learning history. I know it is in the books, but the kids don't know it. And the worst part of it is, 97 percent of the kids cannot pass basic citizenship. Legal immigrants pass 92 percent their first try.
"That is sad. And if you don't know what you are, how can you have any idea where you're going?"
Rosado said his position on education is outlined on his website, email@example.com.
"There, I put the blame on unions, not teachers or students," he said. "Unions have had 40 to 50 years to manage schools, and education keeps going downhill. Now it's time for parents to take it back."
"Our opponents have $15,000 roughly in accumulated funds to run for those two seats. The lion's share, more than 50 percent, comes from union funds. Do parents want Apache Junction firefighters running the Peoria schools, or do they want parents running the schools? The choice is simple. They have to make up their minds what they want."
Rosado said he and Schutte are both under the $500 threshold, but they have the word of mouth of parents.
Schutte said she believes in discipline (detention or suspension) when needed with administrative backup.
"If a teacher has a disruptive child in the classroom, she needs recourse," Schutte said. "I want to see teachers teach basic subjects: reading comprehension, math, science, writing and American history.
"In PUSD, I'd like to see an emphasis on reading, because, without reading, you can't do any of the other subjects.
"I am not in support of social promotion. Children should meet grade-level requirements or be retained. And it should be in earlier years - first, second or third."
Both Rosado and Schutte said schools need more local control, eliminating uion control of schools. In Arizona, they said, schools have limited control, which means the feds have ultimate control.
Schutte said, "There should be a good line of communication between teachers and parents on how a student is performing in the classroom.
Rosado's comment about food services in the district was that he agrees with a net-neutral, self-sustaining food service.
Schutte agreed with Rosado, but added, "Make sure that child qualifies. I have no problem if they truly need it."
Schutte wanted to emphasize, "Parents should raise children, and teachers should educate children."
On social issues, Schutte said students should be taught both sides.
Rosado said, "Back in the 1960s, we were near the top in education. Today, we are at or near the bottom of every poll taken of education in industrialized and non-industrialized countries. When you take all 190 countries, there was one poll placing us at 160th. When you take the top 25 countries, America is at 23rd, and that is a shame.
"The only way you can turn that around is to go back to local control. We had local control in the 1960s and we don't have that today."
Rosado has five grown sons. He is a graduate of Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio with a bachelor's degree in computer science. He retired from a 31-year career with Lucent Technologies and Bell Telephone Laboratories.
Schutte is married and has two daughters who graduated from Sunrise Mountain High School. She has an associate degree in secretarial science from Fullerton Junio College in California, a bachelor of science in business education from California State University, Long Beach, a teaching credential for K-12 from Whittier College in Whittier, Calif., and an Arizona teaching certificate K-12 and adult education teaching certificate. She worked three years at Carden School; was an instructional aide for 2-1/2 years at an elementary school; worked as an ESL teacher for one year; and now teaches at Rio Salado College and Glendale Community College. She has been teaching 20 years.
She said she is not a member of the teacher union.