Oct. 20, 2004 - As a parent of two boys, one who has graduated from the Marana Unified School District and one who's currently attending, Mel Kaster said she never felt comfortable approaching MUSD governing board members.

If elected, she hopes to change that for other parents.

She said her objective is to be a board member around whom parents don't feel intimidated.

She fumed when she saw an administrator she liked and trusted - Superintendent Rick Lesko - pressured to resign.

For that reason she joined the group "Take Back Our School District," which is seeking to replace the current governing board in the upcoming November election. She stepped forward when the group asked for volunteers to challenge the current board members.

The group supports Kaster and the two other challengers, Patricia Teager and Maribel Lopez. The group endorses all three candidates as a team, said Betty Tankersley, one of the group's organizers and first grade teacher at Desert Winds Elementary.

The challengers are looking to unseat the three incumbents whose terms expire at the end of the year, Board President Janice Mitich and board members Dan Post and Debbie Schmich (see stories pages 6 to 8). MUSD district residents will be able to choose three of the six candidates in the upcoming Nov. 2 election.

Kaster said board members could have done more to keep the public informed about the circumstances leading up to Lesko's resignation, rather than allowing a flurry of rumors to circulate.

"I don't think that was right," Kaster said. "I think the parents should be involved in major decisions that go on, at least have a say. As a parent I didn't know a lot of things that I could bring up to the board."

Post said that it's the superintendent's job to provide the communication link between the board and the public. Both he and Schmich said they try to represent parents in the district and are open to discuss problems and concerns parents may have. Board members have said repeatedly that they could not reveal further details about Lesko's resignation.

Still, Kaster said she would be more accessible to parents than the current board members. She said the board can do more to encourage parents to attend board meetings.

"This board seems unapproachable," Kaster said. "As a parent I couldn't go to them with a problem."

Kaster said the board should work to get fresh insight from parents because parents spend time with their kids on a daily basis.

Kaster admitted that she has a lot to learn if she gets onto the MUSD governing board. But she's willing to make the commitment for the children in the district, she said. She said in the beginning she will largely depend on the expertise of Teager and Lopez, who have more experience in education. Teager is a nursing education consultant and Lopez is the Title I project facilitator at Drexel Elementary School.

Kaster said her role as a board member would be "as a parent coming from the children's side. Making it an open gate for parents to come and talk to the board, and then I'd learn more from Maribel and Pat."

She said she would need to learn more about growth issues in Marana before directly addressing those concerns. She had little direct input about what the district can do to prepare students for the AIMS examination.

Kaster has lived within the boundaries of the Marana Unified School District for almost 13 years. She enjoys the rural lifestyle of Marana and doing wood work and painting.

She said as a board member, she would not "micromanage" the new superintendent. She wants to select a leader who is enthusiastic about the students. She also said board members should get in touch with teachers and staff at the district where the superintendent worked previously and ensure he'll work compatibly in Marana. Parents also should be heavily involved in the process, Kaster said. "The parents need to know they can be involved more, and have a say in whose going to be controlling their kids' education," Kaster said.

"The board shouldn't be a dictatorship."

Current board members also stressed the importance of community involvement in the selection of the next superintendent. Consultant J. Robert Hendricks, a dean at the University of Arizona's college of educational leadership, was hired by the current board at a Sept. 28 meeting and has begun to form a community group that will assist developing the profile of the next superintendent.

Kaster said she wasn't disinterested in the events of the district before the resignation of Lesko, but she didn't know how to express her frustration about the district. She said she was not intimidated by Lesko, and that the board mishandled his resignation.

"You get comfortable in the fact that (Lesko's) overseeing our kids and things are going to be OK," she said. "And I think the board's biggest deal on this was the secrecy, and the comments they made. The way they went about this was totally wrong and that's what upset everybody."

She said that if she's elected to the governing board she will provide a voice for students that don't achieve at the top level by providing more extensive after-school tutoring.

She also said that Lopez, Teager and herself would each provide valuable insight that would allow them to contribute to the success of the district. They would work well with teachers and staff and help bring parents into the process.

"We want parents to trust us," Kaster said. "We also know if the three of us get on the board we can do just as well as the board that's been sitting there when it comes to working with the teachers and staff."

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