Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
There were a few things they didn’t teach Mike File when he studied early childhood education in college, or when he got his master’s degree in educational administration at Northern Arizona University.
Like what to do when an angry parent barges into your office and slams his .45 down on your desk to start a discussion about his kid. Or when a guy flies through the door and rips your head off.
That was File’s on-the-job training when he was elementary school principal in Dolan Springs, fresh out of East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
Welcome to the Wild West.
Now Mohave County School Superintendent, File worked through the process of educational administration in Dolan, and the last six years were wonderful, he said. The parents and community worked to build a new school, Mt. Tipton Elementary.
“I loved working out there,” File said in his third-story office at the County Administration Building. “I grew up in that community. I was 24. It was the school of hard knocks.” File’s job responsibilities as county school superintendent have shifted from oversight of eight school districts, excluding Kingman Unified School District, Bullhead City Elementary and Colorado River Union High School, to collecting taxes and auditing finances and expenditures.
“One aspect is who’s watching over the money. The other aspect is local control,” File said.
He reviewed a copy of a $13,250 voucher for Yucca Elementary, but it was missing backup documents on who’s being paid and for what.
That’s how school districts end up in a financial pinch, like the time Peach Springs was unable to make payroll.
School districts have two accounts, one for taxes and one for grants and other income sources, he explained. The districts also have the ability to take out a line of credit. File has to project three to four months out if a district is going to exceed its ability to pay the bills and needs to apply for the line of credit.
“Some people think I’m the end-all to everybody’s problems, and it used to be that way,” File said. “The parameters of this job have changed dramatically.”
He gets calls from people with special needs, and directs them to the Arizona Department of Education. Almost everyday someone calls him about incidents that happened at school, on the playground, on the bus.
“You just need to communicate the issue and listen. There’s always two sides. Sometimes things aren’t always addressed the way they come out to be,” he said. “You need to talk to the teacher and principal. I tell people to go on the district website and see what their policies are.”
File said he ran for county school superintendent more than 20 years ago because he didn’t feel the previous superintendent was providing options for school districts and wasn’t a “sounding board” for the districts.
His mentor, former KUSD Superintendent Mike Ford, liked what File was doing in Dolan and urged him to run for the county position in November 1996. He went to sleep on election night thinking he’d lost by 300 votes, but a recount with a bag of votes found in Lake Havasu showed him winning by 22 votes.
Last year, File ran unopposed in the election. People have expressed interest in running against him in the past, but they didn’t have the proper administrative certification, or they were unwilling to come to work for Mohave County, he said.
“It’s always been my objective to keep a positive, open approach,” File said of his tenure as county school superintendent. “It’s always about picking up the phone and, as adults, working through the process. There’s always solutions.
“As far as my duties here, we’re going to diligently look over everything and make sure the funds are used in the manner they’re meant to be used and will always be there.”
He also receives paperwork for school district board elections, checks board meeting minutes and agendas, school board member expenses, teacher disciplinary files, and verifies home-school records.
“I love all the interaction,” he said. “The thing I enjoy is helping those who have a question or problem. I just met with someone from the public about being on the governing board for Colorado River.”