Scottsdale district takes first step towards bond package

A view from outside the Mohave District Annex. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A view from outside the Mohave District Annex. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District recognizes that to compete with the growing number of private schools and to stem the decline of enrollment at its own schools, it will need to upgrade its facilities and improve the quality of the education in the classroom.

But those improvements will cost money, and the SUSD board has begun discussing the possibility of asking voters to approve a $240 million bond package.

The governing board and top district leadership on May 5 heard presentations about items that need replacing due to old age and wear and tear, enrollment trends and school capacities.

The presentations led to the discussion of a possible six-year bond package.

E. Peter Elzi Jr. and Gary Aller of THK Associates out of Aurora, Colo. presented enrollment trends to the board: The district’s declining enrollment trends and predictions for the future, as well as enrollment trends for charter and private schools.

“We’ve got to come to some consensus on where we’re going,” said Mr. Aller referring to SUSD’s downward trend in enrollment. “This is the crux of the matter. You knew that coming into this meeting, I didn’t need to tell you that. But we need to take it head-on as to what we’re going to do, and the assumptions we make, and what the outcome of those assumptions will be, and set those targets and let’s go.”

“We can’t wait. Because you can see what’s happening. You’ve already felt it. If we continue down this path, then the whole plan becomes different, because then it’s shutting schools, laying people off and combining schools as we go down that route.”

As more private/charter schools move into the marketplace, SUSD schools are not the school of choice, said Mr. Aller.

“If nothing changes, they (the charter schools) will continue to grow,” said Mr. Aller. “We have no reason to believe from a trend analysis, to believe anything any different.”

Changes SUSD could make to become more competitive with other schools in the area include upgrading facilities and improving the quality of education in the classroom.

A notice for a special governing board meeting at the Mohave District Annex (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A notice for a special governing board meeting at the Mohave District Annex (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“Number one, the charters are building new schools,” said Mr. Aller. “So they have brand new schools, that’s attractive to a parent.”

“We have some schools in the district that perform incredibly well. But, on average (charter schools) are creating a competition that we’re not matching — that’s instructional and curriculum.”

Mr. Aller says the district could continue to upgrade facilities to keep up with the market place, but that is only one subjective item.

“The other thing we talked about is working in the classroom to make the classroom a preferred place for a parent to send their child,” said Mr. Aller. “If we invest in them — not just new schools, but invest in the classroom — in the next 10 years, we can turn that tide.”

Dr. Denise Birdwell, SUSD interim superintendent, says the in-house programs and instructions are not getting the outcomes they’re looking for so far, but she sees opportunity within the district.

“I see this as an opportunity,” said Dr. Birdwell. “To me, this is exciting work to do. When our leadership team gets together now, we get excited about it. We are excited about the challenges that sit before us, because we know we can do something. And we know the board has that vision to make the improvements. This is just a piece of it.”

Beginning the conversation

Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien presented the draft of a proposed bond initiative, a six-year $240 million dollar package.

Among the items addressed in the bond:

  • Rebuild and renovate facilities;
  • Refresh the transportation fleet;
  • Update security and safety.

The district will sell six bonds over six years — one $40 million bond each year. If approved, officials say it could change the assessed valuation charged by the district.

Officials say the discussion points are preliminary at this point and could change over time.

“It’s a high view, to get thinking about it, and then as we go and we get through the community and stuff, and get toward the end of May and right into June, we’ll have this more refined,” said Mr. O’Brien.

Dr. Birdwell agrees that it will be important to share information with the community.

“My experience has been, communities are going to want to say, ‘how does that effect my school? I see that you’ve got building renewal up there, I see that you’ve got renovations, but did my school make the list?’” said Dr. Birdwell. “So when we do the community meetings we’re going to give them that. Here’s what we’ve heard from your principals, here’s the discussion we’re going to be having with our governing board, have we left something off this list that you’re aware of?”

“So you will, before a June vote, see the details of how it will touch every single learning community.”

The district is planning to host five informational bond planning meetings for the community.

The upcoming meetings are 6-8 p.m. on:

  • May 9 at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.
  • May 11 at Saguaro High School, 6250 N. 82nd St.
  • May 12 at Arcadia High School, 4703 E. Indian School Road.
  • May 17 at Chaparral High School, 6935 E. Gold Dust Ave.
  • May 18 at Desert Mountain High School, 12575 E. Via Linda in Scottsdale.

The meetings will include a presentation from Dr. Birdwell and Mr. O’Brien, followed by a Q&A session for the public. SUSD Administrators will also be present.

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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