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Progress seen in school district changing its culture

With the end of the school year about four months away, Lake Havasu Unified School District’s leadership is reviewing how effective it has been in reversing public opinion about the district.

With a new superintendent, and a new mix of governing board members taking office last year, the district has worked to combat perceptions that the school district is opaque and evasive, according to officials.

Havasu resident Dave Chapman, a critic of the school district, says he rarely attended board meetings during the last administration, because he would probably “have a heart attack or blow a gasket” from all the “nonsense that went on.” But he did pay attention. With a grandchild in the Havasu school system, Chapman’s focus was on the business of educating children and district finances.

“It shouldn’t have been too complicated to talk about,” Chapman said. “I’d try to read the budget and it didn’t make any sense. Someone once told me they would try to estimate things and all that jazz, but that’s not how you run things. They needed to be accountable to the public. If they couldn’t answer the questions, let’s get somebody in there who could. Those were my thoughts.”

Superintendent Diana Asseier said she would like to have seen faster progress on things like fixing curriculum deficiencies and staff development, there has been growth thanks in large part to the passage of a $49 million school bond and 15 percent budget override in November 2016.

“As a staff we are making progress,” Asseier said. “We are getting closer and closer of being on the same page, but so much of that is what the community did with its votes.”

Asseier said when she started it was daunting coming into a district that had spent a great deal of the reserves in its employee benefit trust to cover medical coverage. The override helped infuse $1.6 million back into the trust to shore up its stability.

“One of the big pieces of rebuilding community attitude was getting the employee benefit trust back on track,” Asseier said.

Other areas of focus that have helped change public perception include transparent budget committee hearings and a third-party forensic audit that found no evidence of fraud in the district’s administrative practices.

With one year on the governing board, John Masden is pleased to see the changes.

“The attitude is the biggest thing that I see as changing,” Masden said. “It was the district is going to do what the district is going to do. They weren’t friendly and not easy to work with. They didn’t always do things in an open manner. It’s going to be a process of several years to work everything out, but I see better communication now.”

by David Louis, Today's News-Herald*
Jan 21, 2018

*used with permission

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