In an “open letter” emailed Feb. 1, three Scottsdale state legislators demanded the Scottsdale Unified Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel’s “immediate removal” for comments he made more than three years ago.
State Reps. Joseph Chaplik and Alexander Kolodin, and Sen. John Kavanagh, wrote to the governing board and slammed Menzel for “offensive and hateful comments he made in a 2019 interview.”
“The statements Superintendent Scott Menzel made in an interview about ‘white people’ being ‘problematic’ has made national news, and parents in our districts were shocked that it wasn’t followed with an immediate apology from Menzel or a response from the governing board,” the letter said.
Menzel told the Progress he was “surprised to see the Fox News Digital story. The interview from 2019 that served as the basis of their report wasn’t new and it wasn’t ‘news.’”
The Fox News story was published Jan. 27 on the network’s website and states Menzel “blasted the white race as ‘problematic’ and said they should feel ‘really, really uncomfortable.’”
The story reported that Menzel “discussed ‘equity, inclusion and social justice’ in an interview while he worked in the same position in a Michigan district. During the interview he said that the white race was ‘problematic.’”
Not so, according to Menzel.
“Regarding the statement by the three legislators, if they read the full interview they would know I didn’t say anything ‘hateful’ about any group of people,” he said.
I also did not say that white people are problematic,” Menzel said. “In considering the history of this country, including slavery, forced relocation and genocide of the indigenous population, Jim Crow laws, redlining—these are examples of ‘problematic’ white racial identity. I believe that we have to look at history honestly in order to build a better future.
Menzel said the SUSD board was aware of the interview when he was hired in 2021, and complained the Fox story “did not include a link to the full interview, which would have provided readers with the context of the interview and the context for responses to questions as part of that conversation.”
The Progress asked board members about the lawmakers’ letter.
"It is a great overreach for a legislative representative to call for the termination of any district school superintendent,” said board President Julie Cieniawski via text. “Especially when the claims are based on twisted bits of information and inaccurate facts.
“The legislature has plenty of work to do on behalf of the communities they represent. Our Aggregate Expenditure Limit needs to be fixed once and for all,” Cieniawski added. “Promising funds to schools and then upholding the use of those with an archaic regulation is irresponsible."
Dr. Libby Hart-Wells, a board member since 2021, turned the table on the state representatives: “My response to the state legislators' engagement: Fix the AEL.”
The Arizona House of Representatives’ Education Committee voted 8-1 last week for a one-year waiver of the constitutional Aggregate Expenditure Limit on what schools can spend.
If there is no final action by the full Legislature by March 1, schools collectively will be forced to cut nearly $1.4 billion they already have been allocated for the current year about 17% of their annual budgets before the end of June. For Scottsdale Unified, that comes to about $28.4 million and represents six and a half weeks of staff salaries.
The SUSD website states Menzel “is driven by the moral imperative to provide opportunities that are equitable, inclusive, and just for all students.”
Menzel took over leadership of SUSD July 1, 2020.
He replaced Denise Birdwell, who was fired in 2018 for allegedly receiving payments from Hunt & Caraway Architects, the firm hired to work on the district’s bond projects.
Three years later, Birdwell was indicted on 18 felony counts for allegedly rigging bids and taking payoffs from contractors during her time at the head of the Scottsdale Unified School District and Higley Unified School District in Gilbert.
Before coming here, Menzel was superintendent of Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for nine years.
Four months ago, the SUSD governing board gave Menzel goals for performance-based pay in the 2022-23 school year.
“From the day I was hired and for as long as I serve as superintendent of Scottsdale, my commitment has been and will be to ensure that each and every student in our district is treated with dignity and respect, that they are seen, heard and valued for who they are, and that they are provided the highest quality education in a safe and supportive learning environment,” Menzel told the Progress.
“Our students recite the pledge of allegiance every day. That pledge concludes ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ That is aspirational, since historically groups of people have been treated differently based on the color of their skin.”
Menzel insisted the letter was a publicity-seeking stunt: “For the LD-3 elected officials to mischaracterize the interview and claim what I said was hateful was nothing more than political propaganda.”
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