The Maricopa County School Superintendent race in 2024 may be a contest between one candidate (the current Republican incumbent, Steve Watson) who has been accused by the Republican dominant Board of Supervisors of financial mismanagement with regard to the funding of schools under his supervision and Dr. Laura Metcalfe, a 27-year educator and former County Superintendent employee who is pledging to restore accountability to the office.
An educator with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University with a Superintendent Certification Dr. Metcalfe had previously served in a leadership position at the County Superintendent’s office working a variety of administrative positions at the schools under the County’s supervision.
If elected to become the next County Superintendent, Dr. Metcalfe vows to restore sound financial management and accountability to the office.
She will also strive to promote innovation programs such as a county apprenticeship program for high school students and greater dual language opportunities.
She will also work with the legislature to ensure greater funding for schools including increased salaries for teachers and support staff.
Dr. Metcalfe graciously took the time to respond to questions about her candidacy for Maricopa County School Superintendent.
The questions and her responses are below.
- Please tell the readers at least two reasons you would like to become the next Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools.
“My first reason is to bring fiscal integrity and accountability back to this office. Presently, the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools office cannot account for over $5 million of taxpayer money. It is unacceptable that money be missing and not have any level of accountability. No taxpayer wants to have their money wasted or missing without explanation and that is the case here.”
“The second reason I am running is to provide innovative educational solutions such as curriculum and instructional support and guidance to what I call overlooked schools. Overlooked schools are, for example, smaller schools such as The Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, schools within the jail system, or schools that provide education to refugees. By law, these children must have access to an education equal to or better than what their peers receive in the public school system. The teachers and administrators in these school systems do not have the funds or resources for curriculum choices, implementation, and instructional support. I want to correct that situation.
The position also has the power to appoint district school board members to vacant seats. Would you like to comment on that?
“Absolutely. By law, this office is responsible for the replacement of school board members who step down for one reason or another and can’t finish their term. Under Arizona Law, there are two ways that can be accomplished: Interested individuals can apply directly to the school district, and the school district can look at those resumes, select their top three candidates, and move those to the County Office for selection by the Superintendent; the other way is for candidates to apply directly to the County School’s office, the County Superintendent chooses a replacement for school board positions from that pool. Presently, the current Superintendent is doing the latter. He is bypassing community input and choosing the replacement board member of his choosing after interviewing them.”
“Right now, a lot of those choices, while legal, are biased. We are finding that there are more extreme conservatives being placed into those positions than experienced community members regardless of their party. I plan to change that and review the options that the school district provides because they know their environment the best. I will work with the school district to bring harmony to their schools based on the needs that they have and the applicants they have chosen.”
- What are two reasons the voters should elect you as the County Superintendent over any other candidate in 2024? Please explain.
“Well, I think my qualifications speak to this very clearly. I’ve got 27 years of responsible education experience. I’ve done everything from being a high school teacher to a district-level administrator/leader, and I’ve also worked in the Maricopa County Superintendent of School’s office. My role at that time was the Small Schools Administrator. Basically, what I did is I provided direct services and support to small rural school districts on the west side of the county such as Gila Bend, Mobile, and Paloma. For example, In Mobile, I was the lunch lady. In Gila Bend, I was the Director of Curriculum and Instruction. In Paloma. I helped them restock their library because it got washed out in a flood. Whatever those schools needed, that was my role.
“I am also certified as a school district superintendent, and I hold a Doctorate in Educational Leadership with academic honors from Northern Arizona University. I think my qualifications speak very loudly that I am qualified for this position.”
“The other reason why I should be chosen for County Superintendent is I understand and have practiced responsible and accountable school and district funding in accordance with state, federal, and county best practices and fiscal responsibility. For example, as I mentioned, I managed a portfolio of between 400 and 500 thousand dollars in state and federal programs when I was an employee with the County School’s Office, and I did so in accordance with all applicable laws, practices, and policies. There were never any concerns or issues with those expenditures from those funding sources. So, I have the experience in that area along with the track record of understanding what those laws and policies are.”
- What are at least three education and schooling issues you will run on in 2024? Please explain.
“I think again we go back to accountability and responsibility of taxpayer funding. That will be a part of this office. It will be embedded in the organization with a full-time employee. The funding in my office will have oversight and be spent in accordance with laws and published in a timely and understandable manner for the taxpayers.
“The second issue right now is the teacher shortage. We’ve had teachers scared away and burnt out enough to where they are done with this industry. That’s not going to help the long-term goals of academic achievement for our students. I plan to work with legislators to fully fund schools across the state and to advocate for higher teacher salaries. We’ve talked about that for a long time but the other piece to this is that the money is not always the issue. It is the level of work that the teachers must put up with. When schools are fully funded, then the schools have enough opportunity to hire support staff to be able to bring the level of work down to an allowable amount for teachers.
“The other piece I plan to bring to the table on educational issues is that I plan to work with lawmakers to bring accountability for the use of educational dollars to all schools, including the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, charter schools, and other uses of education grants. There’s a lot of waste and as you can tell, the accountability pieces are not in place but on the other hand, there are institutional organizations that are allowed by law to use the money differently and without accountability and responsibility like traditional public schools. You use county money. You use state money. You use federal money. But everybody is on the same playing field and should have the same level of accountability and responsibility for that money. We don’t get to play with it and do what we want with it.”
“The next item that I would pursue to support schools is to advocate for the hiring of security organizations. We know that there are not enough police officers or school resource officers to be assigned to school sites to increase that safety but there are organizations that are security organizations that can be allowed to engage in schools as well. Granted they are not direct law enforcement, but security is important. School districts will be allowed by state statute to protect schools by using those private security organizations where school resource officers may not be available.”
“Finally, I’m going to work with legislators to allow laws to be in place that will allow dual language instruction. This is a research-proven instructional strategy that allows students of all levels, whether they’re non-English speakers or English Speakers to participate in a dual language program. We know that this world is small and when a child or a student can come out of school speaking a second language, that adds to economic development, organizational productivity, and personal benefit. So, right now, this is a state-level issue. As superintendent, I will work with lawmakers to make sure there are reasonable language laws in place so we can teach our students in a way that is not hindered by an outdated law.
- Please explain at least two ways your campaign will reach out to Democrats, Independents, and Moderate Republicans to convince them you are the right person to be the next Superintendent. As a follow-up, please explain how your team will work to ensure that voter turnout for your race is like the up-ballot races like the Senate and Congress.
“Being that this is a down-ballot race and has been for a very long time, that’s an uphill battle and I don’t mean to use that kind of metaphor. To break that down by party, for Democrats, I’ve already been campaigning since March of this year. I have been personally visiting legislative districts and other Democratic clubs and Indivisible organizations to tell them who I am, what this office is about, what the issues are, and what I plan to do with that.”
“To bring that down to Independents and Moderate Republicans, I am looking to meet with small groups of Independents because they’re not technically organized like you would have on a partisan level. These small events can be like a house party, a ZOOM call, or events like a lecture or a book study. I also plan to send them a handwritten note introducing myself and describing who I am as a candidate, this office, and what I plan to do if elected. I realize that a lot of things, like handwritten notes, get tossed in the trash, but some people will read a handwritten note and when they see that, it’s meaningful and hopefully, that word-of-mouth conversation will take place.
“So being able to understand what those offices are, a handwritten note, and meetingRepublicans where they’re at; let’s face it. Some of them are probably in some turmoil about what to do and how to vote so I will offer them an opportunity to know who I am and what we’re going to do about this situation here in the office.”
“To meet the need for increased voter turnout, my team will be assisting with voter registration. They will be communicating and participating in lit drops and phone canvassing regarding the Active Early Voting List. We have 50,000 Democrats and other individuals who are registered voters who may go off the Early Voting List, so we need to get the word out about that. I plan on holding question-and-answer sessions either on a public forum or video platform to further understand the issues. They will be delivering literature about me and the office and making phone calls with voters where they are. Not everyone is going to talk to me. I understand that but when you can meet a voter whoever they are, whatever their background is, where they’re at, and answer their questions, even through a text message, they appreciate that and I think that’s going to be a wonderful way for them to understand who I am and I am not just a blank email or a blank text or a piece of literature just sitting on their doorstep. I think you put the human factor behind that.”
- Is there anything not covered in the first four questions that you would like the readers to know about you and your candidacy for Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools? Please explain.
“The reason why I changed parties in 2016 is I was bothered that various people in society were not being allowed the choices that mattered to them, such as not being allowed to marry the individuals they loved. I checked off a bunch of lists and I thought, this is just not lining up with how I am as a person anymore. So, my son said to me in 2016, ‘Mom, I’m going to be a Democrat. Just come home’ and I said ‘Well hon, I don’t know if I want to do that because I’ve been a Republican all my adult life.” Then Donald Trump decided to run for President. At that point, I chose to change parties. As I started to look at and engage myself with the Democratic Party, I found that I was more aligned with those values and those thought processes than I had ever been as a Republican. I have been welcomed and supported. I have grown in this party. That is why I changed parties. I was never able to do any of that in the Republican Party.”
“According to my research, there has not been a Democrat elected to the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools office since 1871. It is time to elect a Democrat with a fresh perspective, with a wealth of experience, knowledge, and a passion for education for all students, teachers, and schools while bringing fiscal accountability to this office moving forward.”
“We talk about Republicans and how they are fiscally conservative and concerned about the large tax dollars. Well, we have a growing issue with lack of accountability, missing funds, and a Republican Party that just doesn’t own up to what they’re saying needs to be done and I plan to change that and that is why I am running and that is why I want to be part of this office.”
“I plan to work with unions and other organizations, including nonprofit ones and businesses to bring opportunity for Arizonans throughout the state working with lawmakers to open the opportunity for a high school diploma that will flow through our school accommodation district and also be able to provide training and industry-recognized certifications for individuals who choose to have those options to move into the State Apprenticeship Program and into industries that need employees such as automotive, welding, and construction. I plan to open that up as an opportunity in the office as well.”
Please click on the below social media sites to find out more information about Dr. Laura Metcalfe and her candidacy to become the next Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools.