September 13, 2006 - The Marana Unified School District will swear in two new governing board members come January.
Longtime board member Bill Kuhn and veteran educator Albert Siquieros will not seek reelection, leaving their seats for the only two candidates in November's election.
Barring any write-in surprises, the four-year terms will go to parent Eric Brandriff and former MUSD board member John Lewandowski, currently a teacher in the Amphitheater Public Schools district.
Kuhn decided a year ago he would not seek another term. The 62-year-old on Dec. 31 will end his 12th year on the board.
"It's time," the real estate broker said. "Twelve years is a long time."
Kuhn first ran for Marana's school board in 1994, a time of discontent and distrust within the district. Teachers walked out of classrooms, unhappy with their pay.
"That was the low point," Kuhn said. "They thought the district was hiding money."
Kuhn vowed to open the district's books. Four years later, teachers voted to use money that would have increased their salaries for hiring new teachers and reducing class sizes.
"It started off as discontent and got to the point where there was cooperation and trust," said Kuhn, whose three children all graduated from Marana schools.
Kuhn would have left the board earlier, but extreme division in the district kept him around. Teachers and other staff took sides after the governing board forced out then Superintendent Rick Lesko, a popular administrator.
After Lesko's resignation in July 2004, the district brought on an interim superintendent but rumors continued to swirl around the former superintendent and the board's secret meetings leading up to his resignation.
"We finally got together last year and unified the district after hiring a new superintendent," Kuhn said.
The district hired Superintendent Denny Dearden out of Fairfax, Va., where he served as an assistant superintendent, overseeing a cluster of schools slightly larger than Marana's district of more than 13,000 students.
A former principal at Estes Elementary School, Siquieros will abandon his seat partly due to the fact that his children no longer attend schools in the district. Two of his children attend the University of Arizona and two have enrolled at private schools.
Siquieros, now the principal at Smith Elementary School in the Tucson Unified School District, ran as a write-in candidate in 2004 to replace board member Sandi Nielson, who resigned midway through her term. Siquieros got backing from Take Back Our School District, a group of parents and district employees that aimed to oust three board members. Of those three, only veteran board member Dan Post kept his seat.
"I really enjoyed the last two years serving my community," Siquieros said. "I was very pleased and satisfied with the hiring of Mr. Dearden."
Brandriff works as an engineer for Raytheon and has two daughters at Twin Peaks Elementary School. The 42-year-old participated in the district's "strategic planning" exercises last year, which led to a new district mission statement and six focus areas. These priorities include Safe and Healthy Environments, Highly Performing Personnel and Effective Use of Resources.
During the sessions, Brandriff offered a parent's perspective on the hiring and retaining of teachers and providing the latest technology in classrooms.
"I realized we were coming up with really, really good ideas," Brandriff said. "Everybody seemed on the same page. (Dearden) has high goals, and I want my kids to benefit from it. I want them to have a world-class education."
Brandriff thinks he will bring a business angle to the board. Budget issues particularly interest him. He co-chairs a recently-formed Budget Override Committee, which will decide whether the district seeks override money.
Several districts in Arizona have gone after millions of dollars worth of voter-approved override money, including Amphi and Catalina Foothills, which have seen budget increases of $12 million and $11 million as a result.
"We're getting by on nickel and dimes," Brandriff said. "But I'm excited about the direction the district is going. I think the current board is doing a great job. I think I can do a great job, too."
Lewandowski served on the MUSD board from 1980 to 1988. He ran unsuccessfully as a write-in in 2004, seeking to finish Nielson's term.
He just turned 61 and teaches at Amphi Middle School. He served for a few years as president of the Amphi Teachers Association. He decided to seek a spot on the MUSD board after several parents and district employees asked him to run.
"It's a way to give back to my community," Lewandowski said. "I have grandchildren going through the schools. I just like to be involved."
His daughter, Jen Lewandowski, is a well-respected English teacher at Marana Middle School. The candidate, though, admits he knows little of the district's second-year superintendent or its plan to deal with the area's extraordinary growth. That will change as he begins to attend board meetings, he said.
"It's so important to work with developers," Lewandowski said. "I know we have some kind of plan. I'll just have to see what it is."
Post, the board's longest-tenured member, will have served 28 years when his current four-year term ends 2008. He served with Lewandowski and knows Brandriff from the candidate's attendance at recent board meetings.
"I don't think either of them have an agenda," Post said. "Dearden was a great breath of fresh air for us. The two new guys seem fine, but it's bigger than any one person."