Tom Horne believes his 24 years as a school board member and four years as a legislator give him the qualifications needed to become state superintendent of public instruction.
Five other men are vying for the position. Horne is one of three Republicans.
Horne is hoping his stands on academics and discipline will win over voters.
“I do stand for certain education philosophies that people have to accept in order to vote for me: traditional academics, discipline and that students’ actions have consequences,” he said.
Horne first got involved in public education when the first of his four children entered grade school. His goal when he first took office as a member of the Paradise Valley Unified School District board was to raise academic standards. When Horne began his Arizona House term in 1996, he worked his way to vice chairman of the education committee and chairman of the academic accountability committee.
“For 24 years, high academic standards has been a theme,” he said.
Horne is proud of Paradise Valley’s performance on standardized tests. He credits the academic achievement of students to high math, science, English and social studies standards that created little room for what he calls “soft” electives. Horne is pushing for AIMS, or Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, as a graduation requirement.
He also believes his tough stance on keeping troublemakers out of the classroom or in alternative programs has helped more students stay focused.
Horne, who works as a construction lawyer, has served 10 terms as board president of the Paradise Valley Unified School District. He takes pride in taking part in boosting test scores of his district and trimming administrative costs to 2.7 percent of the overall school budget.
“He’s been on the School Board for so many years he really understands the education process,” said Karen McNett, a fellow Paradise Valley School Board member. “He’s been there facilitating change, and his experience in the Legislature is an invaluable tool.”
The Harvard-educated lawyer is a staunch supporter of doing away with bilingual education.
Horne has secured the endorsement of Ron Unz, whether he wants it or not.
Unz, a California businessman, campaigned successfully in California to abolish bilingual education. Unz found the same success in Arizona.
Horne has tried distancing himself from Unz after Unz sent out an e-mail criticizing U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Horne said he will not accept any contributions from Unz.
Horne’s views on bilingual education worry some Hispanics.
“If I can organize parents to actively oppose him, I think I owe that to the state of Arizona, in particular the Hispanic community,” said Jose Luis Rodriguez, former director of Paradise Valley’s English as a Second Language department. “Tom Horne has ignored the needs of Hispanic students in Paradise Valley.”
In 2000, the Arizona Hispanic Community Forum filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the Paradise Valley district. An investigation found the district did not fully comply with some special-education laws.
Among the findings: The district did not provide documentation that it evaluated some students for reading and math deficiencies, and it failed to provide evidence it had communicated with all parents in their native language.
Ruiz said Horne’s seeming apathy toward Hispanics and the bill Horne sponsored in 1997 that opposed preferential treatment of a person or group based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin, makes him believe that Horne’s interests are in catering to the White middle class.
Ruiz isn’t alone in his concerns about Horne.
Parents who have worked with Horne said he has a reputation of being arrogant and condescending.
“He’s like a king in his own little kingdom,” said Jami Owens, a parent of five Paradise Valley students. Owens also teaches in the district and was defeated by Horne in the 1998 board election.
Owens said Horne has been known to belittle parents who speak at board meetings and to shoot down ideas he doesn’t like. Horne voted against adding a woman’s study course not once, but twice.
“We elect somebody to represent our interests, listen to us and be respectful of our opinions,” she said. “He has consistently shown a lack there.”
But McNett shares a differing perspective on Horne. The two have been on the board for 18 years together.
“He’s sincere, he’s honest. If you call him with an issue or e-mail him, he’ll get back to you, and I think that’s important because not everyone does that,” McNett said. “He’s the one who always reminds us the reason we’re doing what we’re doing is because of the children, and he’s never deviated from that.”
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