I love living in Page. I care about its future, the success of local businesses, the city, the schools, and the children.
My job at the Chronicle is to report the news. I do this with the most reliable information I have access to. An essential source of information is official public documents. For me, this is often federal, state, county, and city records. This also includes operational records from taxpayer-funded schools. Public entities have legal obligations to keep the public informed.
It’s not unusual for politicians and civic leaders to make inaccurate statements, either intentionally or through misinterpreting information. Sometimes it’s faulty reading comprehension through biased lenses or physical factors like exhaustion or stress. It happens. It’s normal.
Journalists evaluate statements made by politicians and civic leaders with official documents to check accuracy – not the other way around. There are at least three exceptions: If someone is withholding information, or if public records aren’t up to date. The third exception is the biggest problem for journalists; if records are inaccurate or, worse yet, falsified. This requires an extensive investigation to unravel questionable documents.
Newly hired School Superintendent Larry Wallen distributed a misinformed letter to discredit my June 16 article titled, “PUSD sees uptick in teacher and staff resignations.” It was an update to my April 21 article about teachers resigning and protesters organizing in response.
I requested an interview with Wallen for the April 21 article but received a prepared statement, which focused on criticizing protesters. Protesters weren’t pleased with the article because it gave Wallen more voice than they were given. Teachers were not willing to go on record because of contractual obligations, even if they’d resigned. Teachers informed me that their contracts officially expire June 30, 2021.
The timing of Wallen’s letter is significant. I’ve asked myself why he would attack a straightforward, well-sourced news item. Is this a preemptive strike to discredit my reporting before the next rounds of resignations are revealed in July and August? He has complete control over all PUSD information released to the press, with one exception, public records. Does he think he can control the media too? I can only speculate about his motivation.
I have an idea of what Wallen is going through. Coincidently, the day before Wallen sent the attack letter, I read a Washington Post story titled “As difficult school year ends, school superintendents are opting out.”
The article discussed the national wave of school superintendents throwing in the towel. Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said, “It became ‘open season’ on superintendents, who were hit with a constant barrage of criticism from parents, teachers and others.”
I genuinely wanted to understand what Wallen was going through. When I saw the letter, I thought, what is wrong with this guy, and all the sympathy I had for him turned to anger. I’ve calmed down now, after four different drafts of this editorial, each with varying degrees of anger and frustration expressed toward Wallen. He’s an easy target, but I learned a long time ago that a knee-jerk reaction does more damage than good. It’s best to think about a situation a few days, look at it from different perspectives, talk to others, and self-evaluate.
I reached out to Wallen and have an interview scheduled for Tuesday, the day before this reflection goes to press. I will report on the discussion along with a school update in the following week’s paper. I encourage PUSD teachers and staff to contact me by calling the Chronicle or sending an email to [email protected] lakepowellchronicle.com after contracts expire June 30.
Holding on to teachers in Page was a problem before Wallen and before the pandemic. It’s grown worse in recent years. The teachers know it. The community knows it. The governing board knows it.
I talked with an old school friend this week. We went to school together from 1st to 12th grade. I needed to check my memory (I’m about the same age as Wallen). We discussed teachers we had and remembered all their names, including two new teachers added during that time period.
We could only remember one teacher leaving to teach at the new college (a music teacher). I had several teachers who taught my father in grammar school. The schools weren’t that different in size than Page. To me, that was normal.
I know the problem is complicated with lots of moving parts. I sensed the toxicity within the school system when I first moved to Page but couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause. Whatever it is, it needs immediate attention. The community’s children deserve the education our taxes pay for.
Public records are important to the Page community. Here are links to the sources I used in the article that triggered Wallen’s letter:
Page Unified School District #8 Governing Board
Go to ‘BOARD DOCS PUBLIC SITE.’ From there, go to MEETINGS tab, then to “Notice of Regular Meeting.” View the Agenda. Agenda items have related documents. For example, board approval teachers and staff resigning that month.
AZ School Report Cards
I couldn’t locate the number of PUSD employees on the PUSD website over the years but found them on the City of Page website under the finance department. Top employers and number of employees are listed for the last 10 years in the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports). The data is near the end of the report. For 2020, it’s on page 121.
City of Page Finance Department
Former editor Krista Allen’s note:
This is a complicated story. We got confirmation and new pieces over the last several weeks that would eventually corroborate a story about PUSD’s staff and teacher resignations.
Even though PUSD teachers and staff wanted to remain anonymous until their contracts expired, I felt confident publishing the information, including the names, because Bob Hembree had multiple sources–– many of whom are our subjects we’ve come to know and trust––with firsthand knowledge of working under the school district.
When the time was right, I told Bob, “OK, let’s print it” because in this climate, the public has a right to know, especially when Bob had a list of names after some research and corroborating sources telling me and him the same thing.
I know my colleagues at the Chronicle would be happy to correct something if it were shown to be wrong. What were the inconsistencies in Bob’s reporting? He does not make things up. I am proud of Bob’s work, and I stand by his reporting.