CASA GRANDE — With emotional and angry scenes, the Casa Grande Union High School District board terminated Superintendent Anna Battle’s contract Tuesday. The board also moved to place the superintendent on “non-disciplinary, paid administrative leave effective immediately.”
The decision was made at a special meeting solely to discuss the superintendent’s contract and employment.
Both motions to terminate Battle’s contract and impose paid administrative leave were carried 3-2 with Chuck Wright, Stephen Hunt and Steve Hayes voting yes and Taylor Kerby and Kelly Herrington voting no.
There was no discussion about who would be taking Battle’s place in charge of the district during the meeting, or what the next steps would be to find her replacement.
Hunt told PinalCentral Wednesday morning that Matthew Strom, assistant superintendent of business operations, may soon be asked to be the acting superintendent in the coming days and that the board would be in close consultation with the Arizona School Boards Association with regards to finding an interim prior to filling the superintendent vacancy.
“I talked to some of the teachers, and the teachers were not very happy with the direction that Battle had taken the school,” Hunt said. “After doing my due diligence, I took the time to listen to all sides of the equation. I took the time to investigate. It was a solid three weeks of running down information, and I believe I made the decision that was right for the kids. I believe it was right for the teachers, I believe it was right for the taxpayers that voted me in.”
Battle did not respond to a request for comment, while Wright and Hayes declined when asked on Wednesday morning.
PinalCentral also requested a copy of Battle’s contract to see what the terms for a buyout or termination are. However, the request was not fulfilled on Wednesday. Battle was named superintendent in November 2021 after having served in an interim capacity for four months prior.
There were emotive comments from the public gallery as board President Wright outlined the board’s decision after an executive session that lasted well over an hour.
Kerby flatly rebuked the board’s decision and expressed the opinion it could be race-based.
“I gotta say this and I want to say this very clearly. I think that if Dr. Battle looked a little more like me and a little less like a woman of color we would not be having this discussion,” he said.
Kerby prefaced those remarks by describing the board’s decision as “petty” and said it was “not going to solve the problems of the district” and that it would be “dealing with unintended consequences.”
Kerby used an expletive when voting by stating “f*** no.”
Kerby told PinalCentral via a written statement that he stood by his comments made at the meeting. He added that he remained behind after the meeting to comfort staff who had been upset by the evening’s proceedings.
“I stayed for about a half hour after with district employees who were absolutely shocked. Many of them were crying. One woman said to me, ‘I drive an hour a day because I want to work with her,’” Kerby said. “These people are members of our community too, they are some of the most directly affected and they are suffering.”
Amid criticism over his remarks that there were racial issues involved with the firing, Kerby also remained firm.
“I remain convinced that if Anna Battle looked like Taylor Kerby we would never have seen this escalation. This decision will cost the district a great amount of money. There were other options. This was absolutely avoidable,” he said. “Lastly, what is missing from this whole conversation is the reality that we are called to serve kids. I don’t see concern for the kids in this decision.”
Like Kerby, Herrington praised the work of Battle during her tenure.
“I think Doctor Battle has done a lot of amazing things within the district, and I fully support her,” Herrington said. “I just think that there’s been a lot of great programs and things that have happened and some unfair finger pointing, and I am adamantly against this.”
On the motion to place Battle on administrative leave effective immediately, former board President Jack Henness interjected from the public gallery that the board should provide an explanation.
“We asked for the reasons and we can’t hear you. You have to press the mic, Chuck, when you talk,” Henness shouted.
During the short public meeting, Hayes, Hunt and Wright did not provide commentary or an explanation for the dismissal of Battle.
Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland told PinalCentral he is concerned about the district’s perception in the community, arguing that stability at the high school is imperative in attracting prospective parents needed for new jobs in the community.
“I think that the silent majority in the community wants some stability in our education,” remarked McFarland. “When you keep changing superintendents every two years, that’s not stability. You can’t keep changing superintendents, and my fear now is that there won’t be someone who wants to apply for Casa Grande Union High School District, especially with the history of what has happened.”
McFarland also expressed concerns that the mandate that Hayes and Hunt said they received from the November election had emboldened them.
“They took their election as a mandate from the people who elected them and that their job was to get rid of Doctor Battle,” McFarland said. “That was their agenda all along.”
Hunt told PinalCentral he staunchly refuted such claims by McFarland, arguing that he had been extremely conscientious in his deliberations regarding the dismissal of the district’s superintendent.
“Well, I’m glad that he (McFarland) thinks so lowly of the other voters in this town,” Hunt quipped. “I believe that we did get a mandate. I talked to a lot of people during the course of the time that I was running for office and those people that I talked to were very specific in their belief that the school needed change.
After the meeting a visibly emotional Battle could be seen being consoled by Kerby and Herrington and a group of supporters who were clearly shocked at the board’s decision.
With a night to deliberate over the prior evening’s proceedings, Herrington remained extremely discouraged at the dismissal of Battle.
“I’m disappointed with how the night went,” Herrington said. “To be honest, I think we needed to give Doctor Battle another chance. I think she’s done a lot of amazing things for the community and for the kids that are being overlooked, and I think her heart’s in the right place. I’m sad about what happened.”
Herrington said she is concerned about the future direction of the district.
“I’m nervous for the future,” Herrington sighed. “This is creating a lot of unrest. Some people think we’re getting rid of the problem, but what’s the solution?
“I think for the administration, and for a lot of teachers, this is going to cause unrest for them. What’s their future look like? What’s the future of our kids? I just feel like it (the dismissal) was rushed into. It didn’t need to happen last night. I think we needed to have further conversations with Doctor Battle first, but I clearly got outnumbered on my vote.”
HOPEFULLY THIS WILL INSPIRE BOARD TO LOOK INTO THE JANITORAL DEPARTMENT AS WELL.
The story does not say why she was fired. We really liked her at Desert Vista. I was very sorry to see her go.
I've been a Casa Grande citizen for decades, I've never been involved in the CGUHS meetings, I have met most of the board members over the years. I've never met Dr. Battle's. I've never heard anything positive, only negative remarks concerning her demeanor and running a one person iternary. Her biased Authority reminds me of the past Chief of police (Johnny Cervantes) with the same intentions of serving the city of Casa Grande. I feel mistakes are more prevalent with some individuals; many aren't prepared to serve our communities such a manner to harmonize, unite staff members certainly for the best interest of their administration and workers.
Word travels fast and furious in as city our size.
I stand up for the dismissal of Dr. Battles and the members having the will power for justice.
I'd like to correct my oversight in the spelling of Dr. Battle. I apologize commenting using my phone, not utilizing the computer. Aging factors.
As much as we have grown and joined the big leagues, once in a while the small town pettiness and backwards thinking creeps in. Chuck Wright and his pals owes the community an explanation.
Ann Battle served as head of schools at ASU Preparatory Academy and spent 33 years working in the Tempe Union High School District. She’s also been nominated for 11 awards from the NAACP, the 100 Black Men Educator’s Achievement Award and more.
PS- Never met the lady, just don't like this type of abusive behavior by any elected official.
Nice retraint and professionalism member Mr. Kerby showed in shouting an expletive during the meeting. As the sitting Board President, Mr. Wright should sanction him and condemn his behavior! Mr. Kerby needs to understand that this a public forum and that he was voted in largely by the parents of this district.
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