election 2022

Learn more about the Peoria Unified candidates: budget, school safety

Posted 9/27/22

To give residents another opportunity to learn more about the Peoria Unified School District governing board candidates, Peoria Independent has submitted a second questionnaire inquiring about their stance on certain issues.

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election 2022

Learn more about the Peoria Unified candidates: budget, school safety


To give residents another opportunity to learn more about the Peoria Unified School District governing board candidates, Peoria Independent has submitted a second questionnaire inquiring about their stance on certain issues.

Two seats are open on the board, with three candidates running — Melissa Ewing, Heather Rooks and Devon Updegraff-Day.

This batch of questions were going to be used in a candidate forum sponsored by Independent Newsmedia planned for Aug. 30. However it was moved to virtual due to safety and security concerns, among other issues. Ultimately the forum was canceled because of the safety concerns, including concerns from Rooks, as well as because of the reactions from the Rooks and Updegraff-Day campaigns.

In the interest of providing voters with the information they need to make an informed decision at the ballot box, here is the first of three articles that will feature questions that were going to be used at the candidate forum.

Heather Rooks

What can you do to be financially responsible?

I plan to hold the Peoria Unified administration accountable for the way taxpayer’s funds are spent and how much is spent. For too long the Peoria Unified School District has been overspending in certain areas while ignoring areas that are needing financial support. I could not understand why the district couldn’t hire tutors for students, assistants for teacher’s classrooms or a pay raise for bus drivers while the superintendent was making a higher salary then the Arizona governor.

What can you do to improve school safety?

To improve school safety, I believe we need to have secured locked doors on all schools and student resource officers (SROs) at every elementary school and high school in Peoria Unified School District.

Devon Updegraff-Day

What can you do to be financially responsible?

Like any budget, difficult choices must be made. As it stands now, the board often treats taxpayer money as if it were monopoly money. Their financial advisor, Michelle Meyers, must do more than just report district spending and grants received. If building renovations are necessary, then the board should be asking Ms. Meyers where expenses can be reduced and filtered toward improvements. It doesn’t matter if you are managing a $400 million budget or a $400,000 budget, the concept is the same. If new spending is necessary, but not included in the established budget, then cuts must be made to cover additional expenses.

What can you do to improve school safety?

I believe the best way to improve school safety, is to control student behavior. Worsening student behavior has become a growing crisis in the education world, and it is the result of political correctness and the implementation of behavior modification programs. Whether it is fights among students in class, students having sex in the bathroom, verbal abuse, or being accused of racism by students, teachers seem to have little to no support by school administrators. Worse, rather than supporting teachers, the district pays tens of thousands of dollars each year on the training and implementation of new, trendy behavior modification programs.

Rather than spending money looking for a quick fix to the problem, I believe district administrators need to get out of the way. Teachers should have the authority to decide how they want to control their classroom. The district must work toward hiring additional teacher aids, work toward bringing in student resource officers to every school, and schools should be implementing in-school suspension that requires students to clean campus cafeterias and bathrooms. If a student is caught vandalizing a school bathroom, then they will be part of its restoration.

Melissa Ewing

What can you do to be financially responsible?

The board is responsible for being good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars and being knowledgeable of the laws regarding school finance. I take that responsibility very seriously. I will be part of a team that is responsible for the development, approval and monitoring of the budget, setting salaries for employees, approving purchases and ensuring our students have the materials and learning spaces they need and deserve. I am committed to ensuring that decisions are based on greatest needs and are aligned with district goals.

I am committed to building on the reputation of fiscal integrity, transparency and management that has established PUSD as an award-wining leader.
I am also committed to ensuring that our schools are well run and that we use our resources wisely to promote academic performance, and that we continually monitor performance in meeting established academic, financial and operational goals.

What can you do to improve school safety?

One of the biggest risks to school safety right now is our staffing shortages. Schools are not able to have needed staff ratios to deliver the full range of services to students. This has resulted in not only higher number of students in every classroom, but not enough school counselors, nursing staff, school resource officers, paraprofessionals and aides. Not having enough staff means that less resources can be given to prevention, mitigation and early intervention strategies. Addressing our staffing shortages will ensure the schools have the staff to successfully implement the preventative, mitigation and early intervention strategies to avert a threat to the school.

Every school safety plan should be comprehensive and involve a four-pronged approach. 1.) Prevention strategies to address root causes of possible aggression or violence on campus, such as having adequate counseling staff and support services on campus to address bullying, suicide, depression, anxiety and relational abuse. 2.) Mitigation and early intervention strategies that include having an established discipline plan, teaching problem solving and negotiation skills, and improving staff/student ratios. Discipline plans should not be simply punitive, but clear, consistent and equitable; reinforce positive behaviors and be flexible to address site specific needs. 3.) Effective immediate response strategies that are comprehensive. An emergency response plan that includes well practiced procedures that are understood by all staff and students and partner with local law enforcement agencies and local medical facilities. This includes responding quickly and effectively to threats. 4.) Long-term recovery strategies for when after a crisis has happened. Schools can provide supportive services and involve community resources to ensure families that the school is a safe and trusted learning environment, and they have an opportunity to heal.

Peoria Unified School District, school board, governing board, candidates, Independent Newsmedia, Peoria Independent, candidates, Melissa Ewing, Heather Rooks, Devon Updegraff-Day, election 2022