Unresponsive ASDB leadership needs to change

Our view: Failure to communicate distressing; Brewer looks for replacements
2013-05-02T00:00:00Z Unresponsive ASDB leadership needs to change Arizona Daily Star
May 02, 2013 12:00 am

We hope scrutiny by two state agencies and a third, independent investigation will sort out allegations swirling around the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

ASDB must focus on its very important business - educating young people. The controversy has disrupted that work here and in Phoenix. Among the issues, first reported on Sunday by the Arizona Daily Star's Jamar Younger and Emily Bregel:

• ASDB's superintendent, Robert Hill, and the president of its board of directors, Bernhardt Jones, have a business relationship that poses a possible conflict of interest that neither man apparently had disclosed.

• Travel expenses incurred under Hill's superintendency have increased and may (or may not) be excessive. Younger and Bregel reported concerns that some travel may benefit Hill's outside business with Jones more than the ASDB.

• ASDB students are upset about the firing of several staff members and the abrupt suspension of the school's agriculture program. They've mounted protests over what they say are Hill's and Jones' lack of leadership and failure to communicate with students, staff and parents. More than 1,500 people have signed online petitions as well.

• The ASDB board of directors was silent about all this until a special meeting held Tuesday. Until then, the board had met only three times since last June; it canceled its February and April meetings this year. And members appointed by the governor are serving despite expired terms.

• The National Association of the Deaf has joined in the call for change. Association President Christopher Wagner wrote an open letter to ASDB board members after receiving complaints that the school "has been governed by the administration without input from teachers, parents or students." He told Younger and Bregel he got no response to his letter.

The ASDB board agreed Tuesday to retain an independent firm to work with the state Attorney General's Office to look into complaints filed by five employees against Hill.

Younger and Bregel reported that the AG's office and the state auditor general are looking into various complaints, including those having to do with travel expenses, and Hill and Jones' business relationship. These charges are troubling, and they must be sorted out.

But just as distressing is an echoing theme heard among students, parents and staff - that the ASDB board and the superintendent have failed to communicate their plans, or to address complaints and questions.

For instance, a 14-year staff member who was placed on leave in February filed a complaint on March 8 but got no response.

Another for instance: When the Tucson-based agriculture program was rolled up and its chickens and goats carted away, not even the staff member who had been running the program could get an explanation for why.

One more: Brandon Decker, athletic director for the school, said that while he was serving as interim principal of the school for deaf, Tucson police came to the campus and interviewed students about drug complaints. Decker said Hill, the superintendent, never informed him about the complaints or about the police visit.

There is unquestionably a failure of leadership, communication and accountability from Hill and the schools' board of directors.

Matt Benson, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, told us Wednesday that she is seeking qualified candidates to name to the board. She probably will replace all of her current appointees. It's a "challenge," he said, to find qualified people willing to serve on boards, like ASDB, that require a time commitment and pay nothing.

Fair enough. But the governor needs make it a priority to name good people - committed to ASDB's mission and willing to engage with its students, parents and staff - to those positions soon, very soon.

Arizona Daily Star

If you want to serve ...

To be considered for appointment to the ASDB board of directors, submit an application along with a current résumé.

To apply, visit: www.azgovernor.gov/bc

For more information, please contact the Governor's Office of Boards and Commissions at 602-542-2449.

Source: Governor's office

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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