Can Scottsdale district oust embattled Jann-Michael Greenburg from school board?

Renata Cló
Arizona Republic
Jann-Michael Greenburg

Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article reported an incorrect number of signatures needed for a recall election of Scottsdale school board members to go to the ballot.

Embattled Scottsdale school board member Jann-Michael Greenburg has not resigned despite calls from some, including three of his colleagues, to do so after news broke of his possible involvement in an online dossier of information collected on parents who have been critical of the district.

The five-member board voted to remove Greenburg as president on Monday but stopped short of taking a formal vote calling for him to resign. It's unclear why the board didn't vote on the latter as it was listed on the meeting agenda.

Even then, such a vote would have been largely symbolic. The board does not have the power to oust a member, according to a district spokesperson. 

There are two methods for Greenburg to leave the elected post before his term is up in January 2023: He could resign or voters could recall him.

Greenburg hasn't responded to The Arizona Republic's requests for comment, but he urged his fellow board members on Monday to let the investigation play out. Both police and a district-initiated investigation were launched last week.

Greenburg's board colleagues who called for his resignation said it was necessary to ensure the board's focus remains on the Scottsdale Unified School District's students

What happened?

The district has hired an independent investigator to look into the dossier that was "allegedly created and maintained ... by Mark Greenburg," the board member's father, according to Superintendent Scott Menzel. 

Mark Greenburg told The Republic on Tuesday that he couldn't comment on the allegations. 

Parents said the Google drive, which had been accessible to anyone with a link, was made private shortly before reports on it came out. But they created a copy of the files that include screenshots of Facebook conversations in which parents voiced their opposition to the school district and Greenburg. It also includes emails sent to school board members calling for his resignation, photos and videos of parents protesting the school district and screenshots of parents' Facebook profiles that indicated their support for former President Donald Trump.

The Scottsdale Independent, which first reported about the dossier on Nov. 9, said the Google drive also contained personal financial documents, including professional certifications, and mortgage statements.

The dossier has outraged parents who say they feel targeted because they have been critical of the district and the board. 

Parent Kim Stafford said her concern is not over someone capturing her social media posts, but by other content. "I was horrified at the amount, the sheer amount of documentation in there."

She wants the investigation to look into whether unredacted district communications were part of the dossier.

Jann-Michael Greenburg told the Scottsdale Independent that he had no involvement with the Google drive. He said he is not his "father's keeper," when asked if his father had access to the dossier.

Board member Julie Cieniawski — the only board member who didn't call for Greenburg's resignation on Monday — said the board has consistently sought information before making decisions and to act hastily now would be inconsistent before having all of the facts. 

"Are these concerns that were brought forth by a local newspaper article concerning? Absolutely they're concerning. Was it thoroughly investigated? I don't know," she told The Republic.

Cieniawski said she wants to know how information in the dossier was collected and whose computer it was on. "Was (there) any use of district information? I want to know all the details before making decisions," she said. 

The board on Monday selected Patty Beckman to serve as president through January, when Greenburg's one-year term leading the board was to end. 

Beckman did not respond to The Republic's request to clarify why the board didn't take a vote on the request that Greenburg resign.

But she joined Libby Hart-Wells and Zach Lindsay at Monday's meeting in commenting on the need for Greenburg to resign. 

"We need to be focused 100% on our students. After two years of COVID upheaval, they desperately need our help. Unfortunately, I feel that while Jann-Michael Greenburg remains on the board, the focus will not be on our children, and that's why I'm also asking for him to consider resigning," Beckman said at the meeting.

Recall effort underway

An effort to recall Greenburg, along with two other board members, was underway even before the dossier scandal broke.

Scottsdale resident Patricia Lee Pellett started the process to recall Greenburg, Cieniawski and Hart-Wells on Aug. 20. The paperwork she filed with the Office of the Maricopa County School Superintendent says she seeks to recall the board members because of their "disregard for the SUSD parents, teachers, staff, and especially the students."

Her filing claims "parents are not allowed to have a voice in the upbringing, education, health care, or mental health of their children," which violates Arizona law. 

Parents collected signatures for the recall efforts involving the three board members outside the school district's office on Monday after a news conference in which Republican politicians and parents discussed the dossier, and called for Greenburg's resignation. 

Parents were collecting signatures to recall Scottsdale school district board members Jann-Michael Greenburg, Libby Hart-Wells and Julie Cieniawski ahead of a governing board meeting that removed Greenburg as board president on Nov. 15, 2021.

At least 20,934 verified signatures would need to be collected by Dec. 18 to force a recall election of any of the Scottsdale board members. 

If a recall makes it to the ballot, the elected official then faces off against at least one challenger in a recall election.

The last time a school district recall effort made the ballot in Maricopa County was in 2016 in the northwest Valley's Morristown Elementary School District, according to a spokesperson for the County Superintendent's Office. 

Paperwork to recall Beckman by another resident concerned about the district mandating that students wear face coverings also was filed in August, although The Republic saw no signature gatherers for that effort on Monday.  

Stafford, the Scottsdale mother who said information about her was collected in the online dossier, said she hadn't supported the recall effort until now. 

"I am not satisfied that Greenburg refused to take any accountability for his actions and instead attempted to deflect blame to others," she said.

Stafford said she would do "everything in my power to ensure that there are enough signatures garnered in the next 30 days to force a recall election for Jann-Michael Greenburg." 

Board members face more scrutiny than ever

School board meetings in Scottsdale, like many across Arizona and the U.S., have become heated in the past couple of years as board members face increased scrutiny from parents who disagree with the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled and how racial issues are taught.

In the Phoenix area, 10 school board members face active recall efforts. Another 10 faced recall efforts between November 2020 and May; eight of those failed to qualify for the ballot, one was rescinded and one ended when the board member in the southwest Valley's Liberty Elementary School District resigned.

At least one other school board member resigned in recent months, unprompted by recall. Litchfield Elementary School District's only Black board member announced in August she would resign because of the hate she said she faced from some community members. 

In Scottsdale, Cieniawski said she has received several threatening and intimidating messages from district residents and strangers across the country this year. Two emails were so concerning to her that she called police, she said. 

"It's hard to keep my chin up and stay focused when I have to get concerned about going through my daily life as a volunteer and serve. That I have to feel like I have to look in my rearview mirror — and I'm not a person that has ever been paranoid or any of that — but the messages that I get are very disturbing," she said. 

Despite the increased tension and latest scandal, some parents are expressing support for the school board — many members were elected on the heels of the Denise Birdwell scandal that rocked SUSD. The former superintendent was forced out in 2018 amid numerous financial and conflict of interest allegations, and now faces felony charges related to her tenure in the Scottsdale and Higley school districts. 

Emmelin Cardella, a mother of three district students, said she has followed the district closely for the past 12 years.

She praised the new administration's transparency and said Menzel, hired in early 2020, has consistently communicated with parents. She also praised the district's release of a phone app for parents to submit questions to the district and recent instances where  district officials were upfront about its financial information. 

"I always hope that more parents will get engaged and that the average, typical parent that's not up in arms and outraged about anything, that's just happy with how things are going will speak up more regularly," she said.

Reach the reporter at rclo@arizonarepublic.com or at 480-267-4703. Follow her on Twitter @renataclo.