Peterson offers insight into Scottsdale Schools resignation

A view of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board. (File Photo)

A view of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board. (File Photo)

About one year into a three-year contract renewal Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Peterson has announced his resignation.

While Dr. Peterson has not provided his reason for withdrawing from his post, he did issue a statement to the Scottsdale Independent.

David Peterson

David Peterson

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the Scottsdale Unified School District and I am grateful to be able to close out my career in SUSD,” he said in a Dec. 16 written statement.

“My guiding principle has always been to do what is best for children and I leave here knowing that together every staff member has contributed to leaving a positive impact on our students.”

Dr. Peterson says he is proud of his work at Scottsdale Schools.

“I have always known that Scottsdale Schools is truly the best school district in the state and I have had the privilege to work alongside extremely dedicated and wonderful teachers, administrators, and support staff who will always be a part of my family,” he said.

“Together, we have always been guided with a deep conviction for student success and an appreciation of our wonderful community. I have witnessed a fervent dedication to excellence that has allowed us to see students achieving at the highest levels. Our students are well prepared for the world they will experience because of the support and dedication of great staff who understand our vision to Engage, Educate, and Empower Every Student Every Day.”

Superintendent Peterson’s resignation — which is being classified as “retirement” — was announced to district employees Friday, Dec. 11 and becomes effective Monday, Jan. 4, 2016.

Enrollment and audit woes

Over the past few years the Scottsdale Unified School District has lost considerable student enrollment to charter institutions or surrounding school districts. Stemming that exodus and luring students back have been major goals of district officials and the governing board.

“We had a major exodus two years ago,” Dr. Peterson said in an Oct. 22 phone interview on early enrollment tallies. “It looks like we are getting back to growth and our preschool enrollment is very robust. We are seeing new families with kids coming into preschools. We have stopped the decline and we have just plateaued and edged up a hair.”

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby, governing board member, disputed those claims last October saying little or no progress had been made by SUSD in retaining its student population.

According to an October SUSD enrollment report, there are 23,612 students — excluding preschool students — attending SUSD schools compared to the 23,583 total enrollment at the 100-day mark last school year. But Governing Board member Kirby contends total enrollment in October 2014 was 23,781, which equates to an apples to apples comparison showing an overall enrollment decrease of 169 students.

According to the enrollment data, 14 of the 30 brick-and-mortar schools within SUSD are seeing declining enrollment of varying degrees ranging from a handful of students to several dozen, while 16 of the schools reported seeing noticeable increases.

Final enrollment tallies will be available February 2016, school officials say.

A May 14 Arizona Office of the Auditor General performance audit revealed that while SUSD was on instructional pace with comparable Arizona educational entities in fiscal year 2012 — its administrative costs, transportation system efficiency and financial reporting practices were not.

The district, from fiscal year 2004 to 2009 reported millions of dollars in electricity costs as in-classroom instructional spending, which is in violation of the Uniform Chart of Accounts. In fiscal year 2012 alone the district falsely reported $5.5 million of in-classroom spending, the audit shows.

In fiscal year 2012, Scottsdale Schools was an “A” district, according to the Arizona Department of Education A-F Letter Grade Accountability System.

During that same period of time Scottsdale Schools did operate an efficient food service program, which was provided at a lower cost than its peer districts, the audit shows. But administrative costs per pupil were 11 percent more, which equates to $687 per pupil compared to the $620 peer group average while transportation costs were significantly higher, the audit shows.

During that same year SUSD was operating four of its 31 SUSD bus routes with seven or fewer riders, the audit states.

This snapshot in time reveals Scottsdale Schools operated its administrative organization and facility management less efficiently than its peers while instructional achievement remained in-line with its fellow public school systems, the Auditor General conclusion states.

At the time, Superintendent Peterson said certain years of the inaccurate recording of costs occurred before his tenure and the out-of-whack administrative costs are due to the district having assistance principles at district schools.

“I can tell you when I assumed the role of CFO I contacted the Auditor General and I put a stop to this practice,” he said at a special June 4 Governing Board work session on the matter. “This started way before I came on as an employee of the district.”

Superintendent Peterson took ownership of all administrative activities during certain periods of the audit.

“I’ll shoulder that, I absolutely did that. Yep, we screwed up. We make mistakes,” he said in response to Ms. Kirby’s line of questioning at the June work session. “People make mistakes, I see you smirking there Ms. Kirby. You can believe what you want to believe.”

Contract unfulfilled

A day before it was formally recommended to close Tonalea Elementary School, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board approved a three-year contract renewal for Superintendent Peterson in early 2014.

That new contract — replacing the then current one that expired Dec. 31, 2014 — was approved Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 by a 3 to 2 vote, with board members Barbara Perleberg and Ms. Kirby dissenting. The new contract began Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015.
The contract included a base salary of $204,000 — 5 percent of which is performance-based with tenets set by the governing board.

If during the term of the contract Superintendent Peterson opted to retire or quit, he can provide the board with 60 days notice and cash out any unused general leave and vacation days allocated during the current year of the contract, the contract states.

The Governing Board accepted Dr. Peterson’s separation agreement and approved a $2,500 cost justification to enlist the Arizona School Boards Association to facilitate a search for an interim replacement at its Dec. 15 meeting, records show.

Bonnie Sneed

Bonnie Sneed

“The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board would like to recognize the enormous contribution that Dr. Peterson has made to our district, our children, our teachers and staff, to the community as a whole and also to public education across the state of the Arizona and the nation,” Ms. Sneed said in the Dec. 11 statement announcing Dr. Peterson’s resignation.

“Very few superintendents have the vast array of knowledge and abilities that Dr. Peterson possess. His influence extends from serving on international boards to being consulted by governors, lawmakers, and policy makers regarding education issues.”

President Sneed commended Dr. Peterson’s earlier work focused on building both high schools and middle schools withing the district.

“His job has been 24 hours a days, seven days a week and 12 months per year and he has met each day and challenge with enthusiasm and an eye to problem solving,” she said. “Each day was able to balance very divergent interests with a collaborative, creative, positive approach to solutions.”

Ms. Sneed says a search for a new superintendent will begin in the new year.

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

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