4 seek 3 seats on Chandler Unified school board SanTan Sun News

4 seek 3 seats on Chandler Unified school board

4 seek 3 seats on Chandler Unified school board
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By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The field has been set for candidates running in the Nov. 3 election for three open seats on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.

Among them are two longtime incumbents are seeking another four-year term in what appears will be a four-way race for the three seats.

Board President Barbara Mozdzen is seeking her third consecutive term while David Evans, who’s been serving on the board since 2005, is seeking re-election to a fifth term.

But board member Karen McGee apparently is not seeking reelection. Although she filed a statement of interest in running again, she apparently did not meet the July 6 deadline for filing petitions to get on the ballot, according to the list of candidates maintained by the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools.

Among the two newcomers attempting to join the board in 2021 is a former Chandler Unified administrator.

Joel Wirth, Chandler Unified’s former chief financial officer, submitted petitions to get on the ballot, as did architect Jason Olive, a parent to two CUSD students.

Wirth has decades of experience working as a certified public accountant for various government agencies. He worked for the state Auditor General’s Office and Phoenix’s Roosevelt Elementary School District before starting his 37-year tenure at CUSD.

He also essentially oversaw all of Chandler Unified’s finances and spearheaded various lobbying efforts. Before his retirement in 2018, the district acknowledged Wirth’s extensive service by naming Casteel High School’s sports stadium after him.

“Joel is not only the state’s best CFO; he is a man of great integrity, with a deep sense of loyalty, ethics, and a truly compassionate nature,” the CUSD school board wrote about Wirth in a 2016 resolution.   

Wirth said he’d like to give back to his former employer by using his financial experience to guide CUSD through any possible revenue declines it may encounter in the near future.

Though Chandler Unified has been projecting positive enrollment growth – enough so to warrant the construction of another high school – Wirth said he wants to help the district prepare for a scenario where enrollment might suddenly drop and state funding subsequently falls with it.

Districts also face some uncertainty in the next few years as Arizona grapples with declines in sales tax and income tax revenue brought about by unemployment and business shutdowns resulting from the pandemic.

“It is imperative that the Chandler Unified School District look for other sources of revenue to support the future budget,” Wirth said. “When enrollment starts to decline, it negatively impacts everything in the school district budget.”

“I will help CUSD actively research and implement solutions now to reduce the impact of projected budget reductions in the upcoming years,” Wirth added.

Olive briefly worked in education early on in his career and said he is now looking to get more involved in the community.   

The Chandler resident said he decided to enter the race to add a parental voice to the school board from someone who still has a child attending CUSD schools.

“I am happy with the way that the district has been run,” Olive said. “I hope to help and contribute to the culture that so many people around the district have worked so hard for.”

Olive said he’s always been a strong supporter of public education and would like to guarantee the district continues to serve every child in the community.

“When we invest in our kids the entire community benefits,” he added. “I would like an opportunity to make a positive contribution to our children’s education.”

Like all other districts across Arizona, Chandler Unified’s elected representatives have been forced to make some tough decisions over the last few months while navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mozdzen, Evans, and the other board members have sat through lengthy meetings discussing all the complex logistics that come with trying to educate 46,000 students amid the health crisis.

In a rare move last month, the CUSD board was notably split on deciding how and when the district should reopen its 42 campuses for the upcoming semester. Mozdzen, Evans, and McGee voted in favor of a reopening plan that allows for in-person instruction while the board’s two other members voted against it. 

The school board race had at least four other individuals express interest in running for a seat this year, but none of them are listed as official candidates.

The election is nonpartisan and candidates are elected by earning a simple majority of votes cast. Early voting for the general election starts Oct. 7 and the last day to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 23.  There is no primary race for school board candidates in Arizona.

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