May 22, 2024

Joe Dana: ‘They’re trying to destroy public ed’

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For 12 News, Joe Dana talks to Arizona superintendent Curtis Finch, who has some strong feelings about the attacks on public schools in Arizona.

School superintendents typically don’t air their political grievances in public. They prefer to work behind-the-scenes with lobbyists on issues that affect their schools. But the superintendent of a prominent Arizona district is not holding back.

Curtis Finch – a blunt-talking veteran superintendent who works on policy issues with other education leaders – says misinformation on cable news and social media chatrooms is eroding trust in Arizona’s public school system. He says voters have a false impression of public schools and he accuses Republican legislative leaders of choosing to believe “false narratives” while making critical decisions.

“I’ve never been in an environment like this before, where it’s so politically driven and there is so much misinformation,” Finch said.

Finch’s allegations come as the legislature is debating details of two critical education-related issues: a new general budget for the 2024-2025 school year and a November ballot proposition involving an increase of school funding.

Arizona’s two highest Republican legislative leaders declined requests for comment about this story. However Republican Senate Education Committee Chair Ken Bennett spoke with 12News and said he disagrees with Finch’s characterizations.

“Education is our top priority,” Bennett said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of leaders of the legislature not caring or not wanting to admit the facts.”

Finch is finishing his seventh year as superintendent of Deer Valley Unified and was previously a superintendent in Michigan and Alaska. DVUSD serves nearly 35,000 students and is the state’s fourth-largest district, spanning portions of Glendale and Phoenix.

He worries misinformation in recent years about what’s being taught in classrooms has created animosity against public schools. During the last election, voters in DVUSD’s boundaries rejected two proposals to extend bond and override funding measures even though the district has a history of passing most of them.

“What I watch on my cable channel is not necessarily what is happening in the local school district,” Finch said. “Before you drink that Kool-Aid, you need to go find out if that’s in your school.”

Finch said culture wars are damaging public trust. Since the pandemic, activists have descended on school board meetings to protest issues related to COVID, LGBTQ policies and race.

Finch points to an example in his district. A school board member publicly complained about “Critical Race Theory” and Finch says he asked the board member to find an example in a district school of a controversial CRT teaching. After several months the board member found nothing, Finch says.

“It didn’t matter. It’s all about creating doubt in the public. That’s all these critics are doing. They’re out to destroy public ed.”

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