Q-and-A with Apache Junction Unified School District board candidate Braden Biggs

Braden Biggs

Four area residents are running for two seats on the Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board in the Nov. 6 general election. The Apache Junction/Gold Canyon Independent e-mailed questionnaires to the candidates. They will be posted online in the order they were received.

Name: Braden Biggs

Age: 26

Education: Apache Junction High School – 2010; Mesa Community College – current.

Town/neighborhood: Apache Junction.

Present or most recent business/employment: United Way of Pinal County community programs manager.

Previous public office, boards and commissions: Current: Community Alliance Against Family Abuse board member, CAAFA Finance Committee board member, Apache Junction Wellness Partnership board member, Apache Junction Focal Point and Tourism member, Youth Empowerment Group adult board member, Apache Junction Board of Adjustments board member, Apache Junction Library Board vice president and board member, Apache Junction Municipal Planning Commission secretary and board member, Apache Junction Drug Coalition member, Volunteer Center for Pinal County board member and Actors Youth Theatre Board of Directors. Also, former AJUSD Calendar Advisory Committee, AJUSD volunteer, Children First Support Our School chairman, 2017-18; and Apache Junction Citizen Leadership Institute graduate, 2017

How are you better prepared to be a school board member than your opponents?: Being a graduate of AJUSD and a 23-year resident I have had the unique opportunity to not only grow up in Apache Junction but attend school and graduate from AJUSD. Both of my parents have worked for AJUSD in various positions and growing up I was immersed in AJUSD finance as my mother was the chairwoman for Children First which helped pass the two bonds and one capital override for our district. AJUSD is essentially in my blood. Over the last two years, I have attended almost every board meeting and work session. I frequently attended board meetings before that and I have seen the changes our district has made and continues to make. I have asked questions and dived right into the various issues that AJUSD faces. As a very active member in our community through serving on different boards, commissions and volunteer functions I have met a lot of people. I have heard their concerns and help advocate for them. My belief is that our community should be the strongest voice on our governing board and in our district. I believe that I am the candidate who will help bring that voice to the table.

If elected, what will you accomplish in your first 100 days in office?: I plan on being as accessible as possible. I plan on setting up meetings throughout the community both in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon and having Q&A sessions. I want to bring the board and the district to the people versus the other way around. I am a firm believer in going directly to the people. The residents are taxpayers and our constituents and we need to show them that we value them as stakeholders. I want to bring a new level of transparency and honesty to our district. I would invite our director of finance and superintendent to join me so our community can hear the great things AJUSD is doing straight from the top-level administration. This is something I will continue beyond my “100 days.” I would like to see a quarterly town-hall style meeting for anyone interested in attending. I truly want to make sure that our community is filled with experts on AJUSD operations and that they know where their hard-earned money is being spent and how our children are being educated.

What are your hopes for Apache Junction Unified School District?: My hope is that we can bring back the trust. I have seen the community lose its trust in our district from past administration and board. This has caused many issues from loss of funding through overrides and bonds to loss of employees and students. I want to make sure that our community knows that when they are sending their kids to AJUSD they are getting a top-notch education. I want our community who don’t have kids or whose kids are out of school to know where their taxpayer money is being spent and how it affects them. I want to bring back the sense of community within our district that I had when I went to AJUSD under an administration like Dr. Barry Sutter or Dr. Gary Nine. These two men were fantastic when it came to the school/community relation and were always available for questions and answers.

Other boards and commissions, paid and unpaid, have a dais for its members, with staff members sitting in the audience or at nearby tables. Do you agree with the present school board meeting layout where the superintendent sits alongside the board of directors and why or why not?: I do not. I do not believe that any member of AJUSD staff should be sitting next to the elected members. This is not because the elected members are better than the staff. This is a perception issue. Many members of our community believe that our superintendent is in control of the governing board. I believe the current layout has been in a factor that has caused that. I would like to see the format change.

The school board at a recent meeting evaluated the AJUSD superintendent. How do you rate Dr. Krista Anderson’s performance as superintendent: Exceeds, meets, approaches, or far falls below the level of performance required and why?: Given that that evaluation has not been made public it is hard to say. I do not believe anyone in any position exceeds at everything 100 percent of the time. Dr. Anderson has had a tough job since taking on the role of AJUSD superintendent. She has been dealing with many issues that I personally believe should not have been brought up in her first year. However, she has done a remarkable job of balancing all that she has. I look forward to seeing what she and other members of the administration are capable of.

Should AJUSD have the meet and confer process for employees? Why or why not?: I am in full support of this. Our employees are our most valuable asset. Without them, we cannot educate our kids. If something that the school board or administration has implemented isn’t working or doesn’t make sense, I would hope our employees would come forth and say so. That also being said, I am a firm believer in if you bring up a problem, present possible solutions to the problem. Otherwise, it can be perceived as just complaining. This just like in any other business is a team effort. If we are all rowing in the same direction we will get where we are going. Otherwise, we just make circles.

What can the school board do to attract parents to enroll their children at Apache Junction Unified School District?: Again, we have to be transparent and approachable. This is not just the school board though. This also includes our staff. We are in the people business and that being said, we have to be representatives of the people. If our community doesn’t have faith in our district then how can we expect them to place their child with us? We need to hear what the community is saying and work to solve their problems rather than cause further frustration.

Facebook: @Biggs4AJUSD

E-mail: Biggs4AJUSD@gmail.com

The Apache Junction Independent is mailed each month to 35,000 homes.

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