Scottsdale school board sets Tonalea lease agreement discussion

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board wants to hear more about a supposed plan to lease a portion of a district school to a former board member.

Questions regarding the procedure surrounding a lease agreement between Denny Brown, a former Governing Board member, and the district’s chief financial officer surfaced earlier this month when the issue first came to light at a school board meeting.

Scottsdale residents who live around the Tonalea Elementary School spoke out at the Jan. 13 SUSD Governing Board meeting to oppose the apparent plan to convert portions of the school into a community resource center.

Residents called into question the need for the facility, the scope of the proposed operation, and a lease agreement signed in mid-January.

Several members of the Governing Board say they were not aware of plans to convert a portion of Tonalea into a community resource center despite a lease agreement signed between Denny Brown, a former board member, and Daniel O’Brien, SUSD’s chief financial officer.

The lease agreement was from December 2014 to June 2015 and allowed Mr. Brown to function as tenant of the media center building at 6801 E. Oak St. The agreement did not specifically explain operations planned for the proposed resource center.

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby

The agreement came as a surprise to board member Pam Kirby who is asking for a full investigation into the matter.

“I have requested that the board agendicize an information-and-action item to commence an independent investigation regarding the Tonalea Community Resource Center discussed at the Jan. 13 Governing Board meeting,” said Ms. Kirby, a former president of the Governing Board.

“The integrity and credibility of SUSD leadership is being questioned and an independent investigation might possibly be the only way to rebuild trust and confidence in SUSD.”

Scottsdale Schools General Counsel Michelle Marshall declined to comment on the lease agreement issue, citing attorney-client privilege.

According to the Facility Rental Policy Manual & Fee Schedule, the use of district facilities is allowed under the Arizona state law and specific Governing Board policies.

The policy states:

“The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, in accordance with the Arizona laws governing use of school property, shall permit the use, under its direction, and subject to rules and regulation it prescribes, of school property as civic and or recreation centers for the Scottsdale Unified School District No. 48, as long as the permitted use does not interfere with school activities and is conducted without cost to the Scottsdale Unified School District.”

The policy states the Governing Board has designated the Chief Financial Officer as the district agent to sign contracts to ensure they are in compliance with Arizona law and Governing Board policy.

The Tonalea lease agreement stated the tenant shall be charged a monthly rent payment of $1 while the district picked up the monthly tab for electricity, gas and water utilities so the facility will be able to provide “community services and events,” the lease states.

SUSD Superintendent David Peterson agrees the established rental guidelines are the policy document meant to be followed by district personnel.

Dr. David Peterson

Dr. David Peterson

“According to policy, the board approves the rental manual and fees. That is an annual process,” he said Jan. 21 in a written response to the newspaper. “As a matter of practice, the board does not approve every rental agreement or lease.”

Superintendent Peterson says administration will be meeting with the Governing Board to discuss procedure and policies.

Governing Board President Bonnie Sneed says the school board will be holding a work study discussion to give members an opportunity to ask questions about the lease/rental agreement at the 68th and Oak Street location at 11 am on Friday, Jan 23.

“We will be holding a work study discussion to give board members an opportunity to ask questions about the lease/rental agreement,” she said in a Jan. 21 written response to e-mailed questions.

“In my opinion, it is premature to have any accurate perception. I assume that other board members would like to have a more complete picture and examine policies and procedures before making any sort of determination, as well.”

President Sneed says she hopes those who attend Friday’s discussion do so with an open mind.

“My hope is that the board will approach this with an open-minded perspective that acknowledges the entire scope of the activity, which would encompass benefits to our students and community as well as specific concerns,” she said.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.