a woman sitting on a suitcase: Instructor Valerie Lopez (left) works with dental assistant students in the dental lab at the East Valley Institute of Technology in 2016.? Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. Instructor Valerie Lopez (left) works with dental assistant students in the dental lab at the East Valley Institute of Technology in 2016.

山东十一选五预测 www.3ly15.cn Investigations swirling around an East Valley technical education district follow?a struggle for power and funding with Mesa Public Schools.

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The heart of the conflict began with philosophical differences about?what technical education should be: a path to certification and a career or a one-off class for students with interests in cooking or auto repair, for example, but not a desire to make it their jobs.

Leaders in the East Valley Institute of Technology, a campus created around the idea of preparing students for the work world, adhered to the first idea. And they gained the upper hand when lawmakers, in 2016, gave them and other?technical education districts oversight of career classes offered in Mesa and other traditional districts.

Those with ties to Mesa responded politically, helping a new?majority get elected to the EVIT board last fall.

Critics called it a coup. Supporters say the new EVIT board has provided much needed oversight.

The new board?placed Sally Downey, the?19-year superintendent of EVIT, on leave and hired an outside attorney to comb through the tech district's operations.?

The attorney has found problems that include:

The attorney shared her findings with the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which EVIT?officials have said is investigating.?

The origins of the power struggle

To understand the power struggle, one must?understand?how EVIT is connected to Mesa and its other member schools.?

EVIT was born in the early 1990s as a way for Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler school districts to pool resources to provide career and technical training.

High schools in each district continued to offer career and technical classes, while an EVIT central?campus was?also developed in Mesa. Similar technical education districts exist throughout Arizona in partnership with traditional districts.?

The benefit is that each tech district gets state?funding?and?voter-approved taxes. Some of the money is kept at the main EVIT campus, and some supports the tech classes still offered in member high schools.?

a palm tree on a street: East Valley Institute of Technology | Enrollment: 4,000 | Judges said: “There is a type of synergy created between the business community, community colleges, and the courses at EVIT. EVIT provides a seamless transition to all of these areas because of the comprehensive approach of teaching and learning. EVIT has created and nurtured a significant investment and trust from the business community. This trust is the compilation of administrative leadership, high quality curricula, and a deeply-seated culture of purpose facilitating a dedication to learning. Classroom observations yielded instruction that was clear, concise, accurate, and engaging. This type of classroom culture has been cultivated to meet the needs of every student.”? Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. East Valley Institute of Technology | Enrollment: 4,000 | Judges said: “There is a type of synergy created between the business community, community colleges, and the courses at EVIT. EVIT provides a seamless transition to all of these areas because of the comprehensive approach of teaching and learning. EVIT has created and nurtured a significant investment and trust from the business community. This trust is the compilation of administrative leadership, high quality curricula, and a deeply-seated culture of purpose facilitating a dedication to learning. Classroom observations yielded instruction that was clear, concise, accurate, and engaging. This type of classroom culture has been cultivated to meet the needs of every student.”

Where to send students

Today, 10?school districts across the East Valley are part of the tech district. The number of students each district sends to EVIT's main campus has grown?in most cases.?

For example, the?number of Chandler Unified School District students attending EVIT grew from nearly 100 in the 2002-03 school year to about 530 in 2017-18.

Not so with?Mesa Public Schools.

Nearly 1,250 Mesa students attended EVIT's centralized campus in the 2002-03 school year, but that slid to 701 students by 2017-18, according to EVIT.?In that time, Mesa expanded career and technical?offerings on its high school campuses. More than 7,000 students are enrolled in the district's two-dozen?career and technical education programs.

Member schools aren't required to send a specific number of students to EVIT's campus, and there are no prohibitions on districts growing their own tech programs. However, each student represents funding that will either stay with EVIT or pass through EVIT to the member district.

Questions over where students are better served likely existed for years, but it came to a head in 2016. That's when new legislation changed the balance of power.

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Putting skids on expansion

A state law passed in 2016 required technical-education districts to provide oversight of career education programs offered in member schools, instead of just passing the money through.

The new rules also required member districts to get approval from the technical education district before expanding its career-tech offerings.

Schapira, first as an EVIT administrator and later a contractor, began site evaluations in member high schools. His observations?rubbed some the wrong way.

Not long afterward, in 2016, an attorney for Mesa addressed concerns to the EVIT board.

"It is many times very stressful for teachers to go through an interview like this, and it would be extraordinarily stressful for a teacher to be interviewed knowing the funding for their program is tied to their performance for Mr. Schapira," said attorney Tom Pickrell in an audio recording of the meeting obtained by The Arizona Republic.?

Schapira responded at the meeting to say he tried?to be evenhanded in his questioning of teachers at each member district and that only Mesa took issue.?

"We are not here to game the system,"?Marlo Loria, Mesa's director of career and technical education, told EVIT board members at the 2016 meeting. "We are here to make sure our programs are approved so we can sustain funding so these kids have career and technical education opportunities on their campuses."

At the same meeting, the EVIT board voted to cut off funding for an agricultural program at Mesa's Red Mountain High School.

The board refused to fund an automotive technology class at the district's Dobson High School in the 2016-17 school year.

Sides were drawn

Part of the legislative?changes in 2016 required?that a tech program?lead to a specific vocational?certificate, a standard EVIT Superintendent Downey espoused from the beginning.?

"Without outcomes, CTE (career and technical education) is just another elective," she was quoted as saying in an October 2018 Arizona Education News Service article.

Mesa, meanwhile, placed less emphasis on certificates and more on giving students greater access to career-tech education at their high schools. And it showed: Mesa has?the lowest completion rate of the EVIT member districts. For example, less than half of Mesa?students scored 60 percent or higher on their certification tests in 2015, according to Schapira's notes.

Loria provided The Republic records showing 81 percent of Mesa students passed certification testing in 2016. The score needed to pass varied by program from 43 percent to 62 percent.

Mesa administrators say they're working to improve the programs.

Mesa automotive?teacher David Lane was elected to EVIT's board in 2016 after running on a platform to make sure students have?equal access to career and tech education, whether on a?central campus or at their?high schools.?

He found himself in the minority until four new members were elected in November.?

"I have been the Lone Ranger for a while, and I have taken a lot of grief," Lane said.

Voters change balance of power

Lane has faced questions about his service on the board.

EVIT leaders sought an Arizona attorney general's opinion to force Lane's resignation over potential conflict of interest. The AG's Office responded in early 2018, saying it wasn't clear-cut and that Lane could recuse himself from decisions tied to his work in Mesa schools.?

At the same time, Bowers, R-Mesa, sponsored a bill that would have prohibited technical education teachers in satellite programs?from serving on the?career tech board. The governor vetoed the bill.

Ember Conley, superintendent of Mesa Public Schools, assured EVIT board members last month that the board overhaul?wasn't a Mesa district-driven initiative.

She said an internal investigation found?Mesa employees who were participating in the political process did so on their own time. But she acknowledged bad blood and the need to repair divisions.

Conley couldn't immediately be reached to respond to an audio recording provided to The Republic of a staff meeting last fall with?Mesa's career and technical education director.?The audio recording showcases the discord between EVIT and Mesa. Loria also detailed candidates running for the EVIT board.

Loria told The Republic that?Downey supporters had been spreading misinformation about the election, and "I had a lot of teachers asking questions about what was going on."

"As a public employee, I can state fact: These are the people who are running, these are the people who have signature challenges," Loria said.

Lane maintains that the election was not about Mesa trying to take over EVIT, but he's?glad to see a more critical eye by the board. He said the investigation into EVIT administration continues to deepen, exposing issues that need to be righted.?And while he concedes previous leadership did a lot of good things for students on the central campus, "the ends don't justify the means."

"I think EVIT is great," he said. "We're not going to tear it down; we're going to bring it into conformance with the law."

Ben Smith, a Downey supporter and former Mesa Public Schools board member, said he believes the new board members had designs on "going in and stirring things up" at?no benefit to students.

"What the new board did could only be classified as a witch hunt," Smith said.?"They had no information, they had nothing to go on and really, without the knowledge of the other four board members, came on to the board with a plan ... to investigate."

Smith said he, too, was a casualty of?the power struggle: He lost his board re-election in 2018 after questioning why Mesa Public Schools was paying hundreds of thousands for tech programs?that duplicated what was available at nearby EVIT campuses.

"I'm not opposed to CTE programs and expanding them, but they needed to be funded appropriately and responsibly, and that's where I had issue," Smith said. "We were already paying for these programs through EVIT tax dollars, and then we were using our bonds to create them."

He pointed to Downey's?longevity as superintendent of EVIT, the industry partnerships she has?forged and graduation rates as signs of her success. Smith, himself, studied electronics at EVIT in the mid-1990s and went on to start?an educational software company.?

"For me, I want that same success for kids who go through the welding program or nursing program, like I did. I don't want to see the programs get hurt. I feel like the board has demoralized every member, every teacher there. ... It's unnecessarily unstable. There's nothing wrong with the programs that were being implemented or the way the school was going.

"Unless they know something I don't know."

Reach the reporter at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @LindseyCollom.

Support local journalism.?Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mesa Public Schools, East Valley tech district struggle for power. Here's why

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