Scottsdale Independent

Consternation swirls as Scottsdale Schools take hard look at district policies

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board is comprised of, from left, Sandy Kravetz, Allyson Beckham, Kim Hartmann, Pam Kirby, and Barbara Perleberg, Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell and Executive Administrative Coordinator Sondra Como. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and top administration caused quite the stir amongst their staff members, as a trio of proposed policy changes were scheduled to be voted upon Oct. 17.

The Governing Board’s regular Oct. 17 meeting at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. was standing-room only as many community and faculty members filed into the board room to protest the action items.

The two new policies are: grievances and professional work days; while absences policy is getting a revision.

Following a number of public speakers who denounced the policies, and asked the Governing Board to reconsider, the elected leaders and district General Counsel, Michelle Marshall, explained the language was not meant to be restrictive.

The policies will be implemented into a yet-to-come handbook, district officials said.

Ultimately, the Governing Board voted 5-0 to move forward with the grievances and absences policies as presented. In addition, the Governing Board gave direction for staff to return with revised language for the professional work days policy.

The main concerns with the proposed text included being “present and available for an 8-hour contract day” and not allowing family members in their classrooms during duty hours.

Many teachers raised the issue during their three-minutes allotted at the microphone during public comment, that their jobs require many hours of work from home and off-campus duties. Some also said that if required to work on campus for 8-hours, without allowing their children in their classroom before and after school, they would be forced to take time out of their day to transport and pay for child care.

Longtime SUSD teacher, and 2014 Charros Teacher of the Year, Darci Aronson was one of the many who expressed her concerns with the policies.

“I’m deeply concerned about the proposed 8-hour mandated work day because it restricts my family members from my area of work. This is a detriment to my students and a burden to my family,” Ms. Aronson said at the public meeting. “I, along with many of my colleagues, choose to bring my children to Scottsdale because this is where I work. My children are not a burden, and they are not a burden before and after school.”

Ms. Aronson went on to explain that because her family lives out-of-district, it’s impossible for them to travel home after school.

“With all due respect if this mandate becomes policy, I would then only be able to work the mandated 8-hour day, rather than the 9-, 10- or 11-hour day I’m accustomed to simply because it isn’t possible to put in free overtime when I need to rush off to pick up my kids from their two separate costly afterschool locations,” Ms. Aronson said. “Speaking of which, the cost to put my daughter in Kid’s Club is $2,990 a year.”

Governing board members Pam Kirby, on left, and Barbara Perleberg. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Policy discussion

The SUSD policy development group first met on Aug. 24, followed by a first-read by the Governing Board on Sept. 7. The development group meeting met for a second time on Sept. 14, according to Ms. Marshall, clarifying an error in the meeting agenda.

Most of the Governing Board’s conversation discussed the fact that these policies were not meant to be controlling.

Ms. Marshall explained that the policy development group had members who both agreed and disagreed with adding the 8-hour work day language; and the teacher’s children in the classroom policy is focused on child supervision and liability.

“This is a new concern to me, today,” she said of the family members language. “In my mind, that follows along with statutes and regulations that make it clear that it’s our responsibility, it’s our obligation, to make sure we are appropriately supervising students.”

The Governing Board discussed the difference between a teacher’s child doing homework inside the classroom while their parent grades papers, and needing to have the child supervised because of a parent-teacher meeting.

“The spirit is not to prevent family members from helping set up classrooms or if you’re a teacher and you have children at the school and you’re working a couple of hours after your students go home,” Governing Board Member Pam Kirby said during the meeting. “You’re working in your classroom grading papers, for your child to come into your classroom and do homework; the spirit is not to say ‘no, we’re not going to say that.’”

Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg agreed with Ms. Kirby, noting there are “reasonable exceptions.”

Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell suggested some alternatives, calling the sentence unnecessary.

“That sentence, I do think it closes an unneeded restriction, and we just didn’t pick up on it in September,” Dr. Birdwell said. “And, quite honestly until it was brought to our attention today we didn’t even focus on that sentence.”

Ms. Kirby offered a suggestion to look at creating a drop-in rate at campus’ after school program, Kid’s Club.

The 8-hour professional work conversation followed, with Ms. Marshall stating she had heard rumors about the policy that were completely off-base. During policy development group discussions, there were people who both wanted to include the 8-hour stipulation, and others who didn’t, Ms. Marshall explained.

While those who did want the language included, it was to define for everyone what a professional day is.

Governing Board member Kim Hartmann acknowledged hearing off-base comments regarding the policy as well, questioning what type of conversation was had at the development meetings.

Michelle Marshall

“I don’t want to mis-characterize from those who didn’t want to have it — it was kind of the flavor of what you heard in comment — that people wouldn’t have flexibility,” Ms. Marshall explained. “I just want to say there are some comments that I’ve heard that are not envisioned at all by this policy, and are not envisioned by this language . That’s never expected, never has been. This is about ‘here’s your professional day, work with your principal.’”

Governing Board member Sandy Kravetz pointed to the board’s September conversation where they discussed the flexibility of a teacher’s schedule.

“I believe there is flexibility built into that,” Ms. Kravetz said. “I think that what we’re saying is ‘can you check in with your principal to make sure they didn’t need you for a meeting or whatever,’ things happen, life happens. Nobody is trying to penalize teachers, we know teachers work more than eight hours, we know they work at home. Nobody is denying that fact.”

Dr. Birdwell agreed, saying the policy isn’t about keeping tabs on employees but more about safety.

“The reason we sign-in and sign-out is emergencies,” she said. “We need to know who’s in the building. So yeah, I may allow you to leave early but I need you to sign-out because I need to know when you’re not there.”

Ms. Perleberg acknowledged many of the speakers during public comment, saying the fears she’s heard are not what the policy is about.

“We’ve heard this fear of a time clock, those words haven’t been uttered at all in these conversations,” she explained.

“We’re carving out time on this day that we know needs to be flexible, we know we will sometimes be (working) in the evenings, and sometimes be early mornings. Our principals know that, our teachers know that, but we are carving out in this policy the priority of meeting with your fellow teachers, with your principal, with staff when it is necessary to train, to collaborate and work together. It is these hours in the day that it is expected.

“I’ve heard teachers just so concerned ‘well that means I’m going to be here until 4 o’clock every single day.’ That’s not even feasible obviously with all responsibilities all of our different teachers have.”