By Tommy Acosta
Sedona AZ (January 13, 2016) – Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District Governing Board member Zach Richardson was re-elected as school board president at the governing board’s first meeting of 2016 held January 12 at the district office.
A standing room only crowd witnessed the vote, three in favor and two against, much to the chagrin of many Richardson critics who last year launched a recall effort against the board member because of an alleged abuse of power during his first presidency and their perception he orchestrated the elimination of former West Sedona School Principal Lisa Hirsch.
Despite strong support from the local print media calling for his recall and a well organized campaign against him that at times sunk so low that dog feces was put into Richardson’s home mailbox, the effort was unsuccessful, with the recallers failing to garner significant votes to achieve ballot status.
Richardson wasted no time taking command at the Jan. 12 board meeting, immediately taking the center seat on the board dais and launching into a criticism of the local print media, citing the damage to the district he believes the paper has caused over the years through its biased news reporting.
“The negative reporting by the local media has hurt the district,” he said. “People read all the bad press and get a distorted impression of our schools. It pushes people away from wanting to enroll their children in the district.”
He said the negative reporting could also hurt the chances of the next bond override passing.
“These negative rumors and reports are designed to propel personal agendas at the expense of our children’s education,”
he said. “They are eroding community support for our school district. They have already crippled our tax credit campaign, which directly hurts our children, but more importantly, we have an override to pass in a few short years and if that does not pass, the closing of one school will be the least of our problems. Each negative statement or quote one reads in the paper is another nail in the coffin of our children’s future.”
He also said this would be his last term as president and after his it is up in three years, he would leave the board to make
room for new members who have children in our schools to carry the district forward.
After the five-and-a-half-hour school board meeting, Richardson sat down with Sedona.biz for an exclusive and extensive interview on his plans for the district.
The following is a transcript of the interview.
Mr. Richardson, why do you wish to serve as President?
I want to ensure our meetings stay focused, positive and try to run them for no more than two hours so that we as governing board members can do our best to serve our students and our district.
What was the district’s major challenge last year?
Biased and prejudiced press coverage.
Unfortunately, our local newspaper relies on sensationalism to attract readership at the expense of our students. The paper has a grudge against certain board members and does everything in its power to paint us in negative tones.
The paper’s focus has been to cast aspersions on those of us they do not like regardless of the damage to our students.
The only way to deal with this challenge is for the district to use social media to publicize all the great accomplishments of our students and teachers through our own efforts.
Do you favor hiring a Public Relations firm?
As evidenced by the recent attacks on the district by the paper because we hired a professional public relations firm to try and get some good news out to the public I believe writing press releases and sending them to the local paper for publication is useless.
We need to get the good works and accomplishments of the district out to the public in the most effective manner without having to rely on our local newspaper to do so. There are so many wonderful things our students are doing that are over-shadowed by fabricated negativism.
We need a social-media savvy public relations firm to help us create an internal public relations campaign using all the tools social media has to offer. If we must circumvent the available print media to do so, then so be it.
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
I am going to do whatever needs to be done to move our school district forward.
I have two children who have progressed through our school district, with the last one graduating this year. I have a good understanding of our school district from a parent’s perspective as well as board member and have served the district through various volunteer efforts over the past eleven years.
My experience gives me a solid perspective on where we should be going and how to get there. We need to start besetting goals, one of which has to be significantly raising teacher salaries.
What are the challenges facing the district today?
We need to set our goals as a district and have the courage to accomplish them.
Restructuring can be and should be positive. A stagnant organization is a lost organization. Closing schools and cutting expenses are not goals — they are consequences caused by shrinking state education budgets.
What do you think of the current “Save Big Park School” campaign?
I think the campaign is distracting us from our mission to provide a quality education for our students. When my children were going to West Sedona School, we had a number of parents tell us to send our kids to Big Park because there were “Not as many Mexicans at Big Park.”
Some people might conclude this is the real motivation to Save Big Park School. We do not want our district to be perceived as Hispanic biased or racist because I do not think it is.
If our school district was run like a business, the obvious decision would be to close one or two schools. But school districts are not businesses; they are elements of communities. We have to take that into account when making any decision. The bottom line is that we must do what is best for our students.
How do you address the accusation claiming that you wanted to close Big Park in 2014?
This accusation is just another distraction from our ultimate goal of providing a quality education for our students. I was accused of wanting to close Big Park School in 2010 when I initially ran for the school board. It was an obvious attempt to smear my campaign.
I have a letter from the Big Park School principal and Site Council from November 2013 thanking me for chairing the successful Override campaign because it was feared if the override failed, Big Park School might have to close. This accusation makes no sense. For me to campaign to save Big Park School in 2013 and then campaign to close it in 2014 is a ridiculous fabrication.
What about the superintendent’s $18,500 pay increase?
That pay increase is fictitious. It is also just another distraction from the real issues. Instead of forcing our superintendent to focus his efforts on defending his pay, let’s challenge him to earn it. There are a lot of obvious choices ahead of us that will require difficult decisions.
What do you mean by “obvious choices and difficult decisions?”
If the facts show that the only way to significantly increase teacher pay and improve student education in Sedona is to close a school. The choice is obvious. Making the decision will be tough.
Do you think there will be another recall effort against you?
I have no idea. The recallers based their recall on claims that I made derogatory statements regarding the job performance of the West Sedona principal in their effort to discredit me. These claims were fictitious. They were hoping to protect the principal from what they mistakenly thought was a demotion.
Unfortunately, so many people thought I had made these statements, which I had not, that the principal felt obligated to resign.
The recall was self-destructive. It hurt the person they tried to help.
Sadly, I find the “Save Big Park” campaign following the same destructive course. Decisions need to be based on facts and merits, not who slanders who the best. History has proven that negative campaigns tend to backfire, and the people of Sedona get it.
How do you feel about the local print media and their coverage of school issues?
Print media is struggling in a world of social media and they are resorting to inflammatory tactics to remain viable.
People are not advertising in print media as evidenced by the shrinking size of the local paper. Take a look at this week’s publications. This is a fact.
As advertising revenues decrease, so does the paper’s ability to hire good writers that attract readers and it all ends up in a downward spiral.
It is clear the paper is on a mission to discredit me, and the school district, by distorting facts in its attempt to create sensationalism to attract readers.
There are a number of advertisers withdrawing their ads due to the biased reporting and the unwarranted attacks on our school district.
This has come back to bite them where it hurts the most – advertising dollars!
I used to think that there were real issues with the school district based on what I read in the paper. Then the stories got so ridiculous, that I figured that it was the paper that had the issues and not the school district. I am insulted that the paper assumed the public is so gullible.
There are issues with the school district which need to be resolved, but having the paper publish such outlandish stories only aggravates the situation.
I am glad our community businesses are boycotting the paper.
They need to be taught a lesson.
I agree, front page article on the firing of a $9.50 an hr employee
when the employee stated she was wrong seems a little much.
I can’t help by think this is the Red Rock News’s white whale.
Just read today’s paper. The paper claims that there was a 4 1/2 hour board meeting and the most the paper could report on was what a few people said at the call to the public – WHERE IS THE NEWS??? The paper did report that Board Member Surber walked out of an executive session. When Mayor Adams walked out of a public meeting, he was a villain according to the paper. Surber walks out of an important executive session and she is a hero? HA! And Fox should be ashamed of the nonsense he writes. Some of it has to be complete fabrication such as Richardson being disciplined for “harassing a high school teacher”. Give me a break. The only thing I can say about Richardson is that he must be crazy to again take on the abuse of the paper, though maybe someone has to lead the charge!
Zach reminds me of Richard Nixon and most Republicans. While never accepting blame for their actions blame the liberal press. Parents are pulling their children from our district because of our district administrators. Also override dollars have nothing to do with a school campus only with operations. While Mr. Lykins was pointing to declining numbers he, Mr Richardson and his board did nothing to stem the tide and had no plan. The PR firm hired was not the problem but the process used was flawed at best and criminal at worst.
What the heck happened to today’s Red Rock News edition? It’s thinner than a dime and it looks like is was printed on toilet paper. How fitting. It almost fell apart in my hands when I tried folding it. Are they doing that bad that they are not only cutting down its size but the quality of the pulp as well? What a shame to see a once-viable publication falling apart like that. A pity. The paper is shrinking and sinking. If I were an employee I would abandon ship faster than a rat.
Their top “slander” reporter Zachary Jernigan just did!
I’m a parent of a child at Big Park School and just wanted to share that Zachary Jernigan is actually transferring to the Larson owned paper in Cottonwood. I wanted to verify this after a school board member shared that he was leaving to work with the competition in Cottonwood. The paper will answer questions if anyone wants to call or email them to fact check about their employees and where they work.
As a parent of a child at Big Park School, I was curious where I can find information about the “Save Big Park” campaign that is mentioned above? I searched social media and couldn’t find a page or content about it. Was there a website dedicated to it? I just want to make sure I know about it when parents or community members ask me.
If anyone commenting here would like to attend the school board meetings and share their thoughts during the call to the public, they are held on the first Tuesday of the month, at the District office, at 4:00pm. I would also welcome any discussion or productive dialogue with business owners, community members, just anyone in general with a passion for education and its importance in our community. I am a business owner, home owner, parent of a child, resident of more than 15 years, and actually fundraising for our students and teachers right now. My contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org, 928-202-2374.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on things as always Mr. Richardson.
So I searched Facebook for “Save Big Park Sedona” and the first thing that came up was was Heather Herman. There is also a picture of a sign that said “Don’t let Big Park Close” with a post from Heather Herman that stated “It was walk to school day at Big Park today and I carried this sign on the walk for all traffic to see. The threat is real, the possibility is on the table – Big Park could close! I was called a liar and a rebel rouser. I say- prove me wrong. Come to the forum tonight at the High School at 5:30 and let’s ask what the options are.” I have not seen anything from the school district saying that Big Park was going to close.. Link below: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10206351954491631&set=g.811135625599361&type=1&theater
Heather says on her face book post:
“I was called a liar and a rebel rouser. I say- prove me wrong.”
I think Dawn just did that. I guess you did not expect people to search for the facts????
Correct, I did carry that sign to school in October, I just wasn’t aware that one sign constituted a campaign. But, if that’s what you or anyone considers a campaign- then I am the owner of it.
I would like to share something I shared with Mr. John D. Miller, school board member, at the November 7 Roundtable held at the Hilton. This website was created for the last override: , please note number 6. As parents we were encouraged to share, if the override didn’t pass, a school would close. Now, with $1.2 million to be cut, I would hope everyone can understand that the threat is quite real and in fact one of the options being researched. Please see the complete presentation presented at the Tuesday school board meeting here: .
As I mentioned above, I’m more than happy to communicate in person, email, or phone to discuss the value of education in our community. Thanks for sharing my post and my sign.
Heather Hermen- most people spell it wrong, it is with an ‘e’
I’ve been watching the new Marriot go up RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE HIGH SCHOOL and have been wondering why NO ONE on the school board put a stop to it. In other states, having a hotel/motel/shelter is NOT allowed anywhere near a school. It’s common sense NOT to have a transient group next door to a school. It’s INSANE that this school board do not look out for the safety and well-being of the children and instead are all wrapped up in their little ego trips. SHAME SHAME on the school board. Let’s pray our high school students don’t end up in the child sex slave trade.