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Phoenix Elementary School District board moves to fire superintendent

Three Phoenix Elementary School Board members left the public in the dark as they voted to fire the district’s superintendent.

The board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to direct district attorneys to negotiate a separation agreement with Superintendent Ibi Haghighat, who the board hired last year. 

The decision left parents and some board members puzzled, because Phoenix Elementary Governing Board President Jessica Bueno did not explain why she brought the motion to dismiss Haghighat. Board members Carmen Trujillo and Erika De La Rosa, who voted in favor of the motion, also did not explain their votes.

“There has been no transparency to the community regarding any plans,” parent Nicole Wheatcroft said in a letter to the governing board. “There has been no opportunity for community feedback. This is extremely unsettling and disruptive.”

The three board members did not respond to KJZZ News’ requests for comment.

But Board member Reggie Carrillo, who voted against the motion, said the firing could be related to a desire by some on the board to be more involved in school district operations. That conflicts with a policy that says the board shall not “direct or appear to direct staff on ... day-to-day operations.” 

“And I believe that we have a board that organically moves forward wanting to be more involved than what the governance model dictates and what we’ve collaborated on,” Carrillo said.

He said it also created a bad working relationship with Haghighat that played out in public at several board meetings. 

“It seemed like along the way, the expertise of the superintendent was not as appreciated as it should have been,” Carrillo said. 

During the board meeting, Carrillo said the district could end up paying over $330,000 to terminate Haghighat’s contract early without cause. 

Board member Alicia Vink, the only board member with a child attending the district, expressed support for Haghighat and concern over the impact the firing could have on the district and students.

“This decision will also cost our children hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources they desperately need,” she said. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.