Scottsdale Schools candidates talk motivations for seeking Governing Board post

Three local residents are running for two open seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board during the upcoming Tuesday, Nov. 6, election.

Patty Beckman, Jann-Michael Greenburg and Mike Peabody are the three candidates vying for the school board, as board members Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann are not seeking re-election.

Elected Governing Board members serve four-year terms.

The deadline for filing signatures was Aug. 8. Ms. Beckman turned in 1,144 signatures, Mr. Greenburg turned in 893 signatures and Mr. Peabody turned in 641 signatures.

Ms. Beckman, a mother of twin girls at Mohave Middle School, has lived in Paradise Valley since 2002 and says her family has lived in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas since the 1950s. She has a background in finance with a degree from Arizona State University. She began her career at Smith Barney/Citigroup working with nonprofit organizations specializing in retirement plans and investment policy statements.

Ms. Beckman has co-chaired the annual women’s “Health and Wealth” symposium, taught women’s non-credit finance/investment classes at Scottsdale Community College and sat on the board of directors of Desert Stages Theatre.

She is the chief financial officer of a small private manufacturing company.

Ms. Beckman says she was Mohave Middle School’s PTO co-president last year, and a dedicated parent volunteer while her children were at Kiva Elementary School.

Mr. Greenburg is a 2012 Arcadia High School graduate, rising to be fifth in his class, he says. Following graduation he went to law school at the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated with a first class honors degree in law in 2016.

He went on to work for Deloitte UK in its private client tax division in Glasgow and Edinburgh, focusing on private equity taxation, he says.

While there, he chartered accountancy courses at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.

In June 2017, Mr. Greenburg left Deloitte UK to return to the United States and take the New York bar exam, which he passed in July 2017.

He joined his family-owned copyright licensing agency, Tresona. Mr. Greenburg runs Tresona’s business affairs department focusing on legal, financial and business development matters. He is expected to be sworn in as an attorney in New York on Sept. 12, he says.

Mr. Greenburg is a volunteer at Yavapai Elementary School as a teacher’s aide in an early morning math class, the Crazy 8s Math Club.

Mr. Peabody is a parent of two Scottsdale Unified School District students and has served on several school committees and boards including the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee in 2015, a budget committee and now the bond oversight committee.

Mr. Peabody is originally from Falmouth, Maine, and served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1991 when he was medically discharged. He attended the University of New Hampshire from 1996-98.

He says he has lent his assistance for a number of school needs, including rebuilding generators the district couldn’t get replacement parts for, helping students to the nurses office, filling in as a lunch aide and serving as a crossing guard, which he does regularly at Hohokam Elementary School.

Mr. Peabody was the coach of a state championship robotics team, and led three robotics teams to the world championships. Mr. Peabody says he has experience in almost every aspect of a school, except teaching, cooking and be administrative duties.

The Independent will be doing a bi-monthly, question-and-answer series with the three candidates leading up to election day. Read below for the candidates’ first round of questions:

Patty Backman

Patty Beckman

• What prompted you to run for the local school board?

About a year ago, I realized that running for the SUSD school board was something I had to do. My family had chosen SUSD for its highly skilled and experienced teachers, as well as its reputation for academic excellence. At the time, teachers were fearful and leaving.

It was clear we had a leadership problem that was causing a major morale problem. Once I began looking into our district’s financial practices, I became very vocal about the unethical conflict of interest that existed between our CFO and her sister’s company, one that SUSD used as a vendor.

I knew I had to try and make a change.

My children, and all of our children, deserve excellent academics, our teachers deserve to be respected, and our taxpayers deserve to have their tax dollars spent responsibly.

I have the academic knowledge, the financial skill-set, a decade-long history of volunteering in our schools, strong relationships with teachers, and children in our schools. I intend on making a better SUSD.

•What goals do you hope to achieve if you are elected to the school board?

I would like to:

• Place an emphasis on stronger academics and programs for our students by focusing on STEM, the arts, and vocational training. We also need to develop marketing for the successful programs we currently do offer. Quite a few prospective parents are not aware that SUSD has a Math and Science Academy, offers dual enrollment, has an IB program, offers Spanish immersion, Mandarin and so much more. We need to partner with members of the community, Realtors, and businesses so parents know what is available in our public schools.

• Rebuild our special education department. Over the last two years, we have seen our once nationally respected SPED department suffer and become nearly dismantled. We need to refocus, rebuild, and provide the best services possible for our children that deserve them.

• Support the mental health and wellbeing of our students. A statewide student-to-counselor ratio of 900-1 is unacceptable. We must make finding the funds to bring in the best talent and support for our students a priority.

• Respect, value, communicate, and collaborate with our teachers. We have incredibly talented and experienced individuals leading our classrooms. We need to work to pay them the competitive salary they deserve so that we may retain them and attract others. A valued teacher is paramount to the success of a child.

• Hold taxpayer money to the highest ethical standard by eliminating waste; demanding a review of all large budget expense items such as administration costs, transportation, and food service. Not allowing any conflicts of interests, re-evaluating all hiring practices, and bringing back the role of an internal auditor, as well as an independent auditing firm. Finally, best practices must be followed.

Jann-Michael Greenburg

Jann-Michael Greenburg

•What prompted you to run for the local school board?

Having moved back to Arizona in July 2017, I became aware of the very serious problems and allegations of wrongdoing by the administration that SUSD was facing. I reached out to two individuals in the SUSD community who were willing to meet with me and explain what they perceived to be occurring within SUSD. The allegations made and documents shared with me were hard to believe but portrayed a district in crisis.

I began researching these allegations in earnest intending to obtain evidence which supported or dismissed them. This involved pouring through two years’ worth of SUSD meeting minutes, identifying specific areas of information I wanted to target, and filing public information requests with Higley Unified School District and SUSD. In mid-December 2017, I began reviewing thousands of e-mails and other documents and put together a series of reports which corroborated and supported the SUSD teachers’ and the SUSD community’s allegations of wrongdoing and corruption by SUSD administrators and vendors.

I provided my findings to the Governing Board, the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Arizona, and to the journalists who worked so diligently to shine a light on these issues. I wanted to be sure that my findings were reviewed and corroborated with the hope in mind that they would ultimately prove useful to the relevant authorities in removing Dr. Angela Denise Birdwell and Mr. Louis Hartwell from SUSD.

By working on these reports, collaborating with members of the SUSD community, and attending Governing Board meetings it became abundantly clear to me that many of the current members of the Governing Board had failed in their basic state constitutional duties to govern the general conduct of and supervise our district (Ariz. Const. art. XI, §2; ARS §15-301 et seq.). It was also apparent to me that this was done callously and with a great deal of arrogance, as if some of these board members forgot that they are there to serve the community.

In fact, the only time I saw any signs of remorse from our Governing Board is when four of our Governing Board members chose to settle with Dr. Birdwell and Mr. Hartwell, paying them $180,000 to leave the district despite the serious evidence of wrongdoing the district’s own counsel had compiled.

To this day not one of the Governing Board members has ever apologized to the SUSD community or, importantly, its teachers and students for what had transpired over the past 2.5 years.

Moreover, their failure to do their job has resulted in (a) a complete lack of vision for our district and students, (b) the hiring of numerous administrators and other district officials who terrorized teachers and community members, (c) the end of a working collaboration between district teachers and the Governing Board, (d) the loss of excellent veteran teachers and other school officials, (e) lawsuits with the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Arizona and former District parents, (f) abuses in our Special Education departments (if not all departments), (g) complete financial mismanagement, (h) poor or altogether missing management and internal controls, and (i) a continuing decline in student enrollment, just to name a number of key issues our District now faces.

In short, our District is in crisis and, save for what appears to be stabilizing and refreshing work from Dr. John Kriekard, our District’s acting superintendent, there is a clear leadership vacuum in our Governing Board and District. I have chosen to run for a seat on the SUSD Governing Board to address these problems, turn our District around, and make it an educational environment where every parent wishes to send his or her child and every child wishes to attend and learn.

•What goals do you hope to achieve if you are elected to the school board?

My policy platform is divided into two parts.

1. The first part is to implement the necessary internal controls to ensure that the risk of the mismanagement of SUSD’s assets and any accompanying wrongdoing is minimized.

To accomplish this goal, I am proposing a number of specific steps including but not limited to the following:

a. I believe the very first “things” our Governing Board must tackle are the failings in our management and internal controls. These are fundamental to making any organization run well. Such an undertaking will almost certainly require the hiring of internal auditors, outside work (crisis) management specialists, and department specialists who review each and every department at our District, identify the problems, and propose specific means of fixing these problems which the Governing Board can implement and supervise.

b. I would like our Governing Board to change how it operates, including increasing the number of work study sessions each month (e.g., 4 to 5 meetings every two weeks) that are dedicated to one specific topic, publishing documents to be discussed at meetings at least seven days in advance of meetings, fully complying with open meetings laws, and thoroughly reviewing and updating all District policies.

c. I want to create a District Office of an SUSD Inspector General to conduct unfettered, preliminary reviews of allegations of wrongdoing within SUSD.

d. I would like to form an Internal Auditing Department which would constantly review internal management and controls, identify weaknesses and problems, and create solutions to them.

e. The Governing Board should implement a hearings system whereby teachers, administrators, and other experts are able to present testimony to our Governing Board on various issues within our District with proposed solutions to these issues with full candor before they develop into serious problems.

2. The second part, and my ultimate goal, is to provide high-quality education and learning opportunities to students and provide a place for every child. A few of my thoughts on this subject are broken down below:

a. Our job is to teach students how to think critically and equip them with the tools they will need to do so. This means giving our great teachers our trust and the freedom to actually teach. Teachers are the only employees who have constant and daily interaction with students.

They are likely the only employees who know which students struggle with which subject, which students learn in which way, and what students actually want to gain from their education. They alone are able to create an academically rigorous, intellectually stimulating, and innovative culture for our students.

b. We need to show parents and children that there is place for them at SUSD, that we care about their interests, and that we will provide excellent opportunities for them to pursue those interests. Our District should be innovative and more open to vocational education opportunities (whether at EVIT or by introducing new courses like computer programming to our schools), performing arts opportunities (e.g., creating new performance and music education opportunities, or renting excess space to fine arts/performing arts studios, etc.), and so much more. Each student has something he or she wishes to explore, and we need to provide that opportunity to do so.

c. SUSD should work to involve our community in our schools to provide unique learning opportunities to students. I have advocated for both afterschool classes and lectures (e.g., “adulting” classes where relevant professionals explain how to do key tasks, for example filling out and filing tax returns, or teach subjects in law, philosophy, astrophysics, and other subjects which students would not otherwise have access to unless or until they attended university), as well as creating summer internship opportunities with Arizona businesses, especially at the high school level. These are programs that would be entirely unique to SUSD.

The benefit of these types of policies is that by providing an academically rigorous and stimulating atmosphere for students – one which does not simply focus on short term memorization but on long-term thinking – and by providing learning opportunities which are of interest to them, the ability to teach the importance of hard work and critical thinking will be easier and the high scoring test results will come.

Mike Peabody

Mike Peabody

•What prompted you to run for the local school board?

I am running because — simply put — the students are our future doctors and lawyers, engineers, military, architects, trades people, and future SUSD parents. I am running not for me, but for them.

The SUSD Governing Board brought Dr. Birdwell and her cabinet into Scottsdale Unified. The Governing Board was given information about Dr. Birdwell and the above named persons but chose to ignore it.

The Governing Board was given information on how Dr. Birdwell was decimating the district, but chose to applaud Dr. Birdwell for bringing a new energy to SUSD. Teacher after teacher asked the Governing Board to stop the hostile workplace environment and bring back clarity and good judgment to the district. The Board sat there and talked about their accomplishments.

Parents begged the Board to look into what was in “black and white.” The board chose to call it “fake news” as Dr. Birdwell did. The Governing Board decided to call executive session after executive session casting an air of suspicion over the Board and its members.

Communities screamed about rebuilds and designs of the buildings to the Governing Board and were met with “heal thyself” and “we need to study,” but already had plans to go ahead without listening.

I am running to right these wrongs.

I am running to bring trust and transparency to SUSD. I am running for 23,000-plus students. I am running for the teachers and staff of every SUSD campus and every SUSD support staff. I am running for the facilities manager of every school to the superintendent. I am running for every parent/grandparent/guardian of all of our SUSD students. I am running for the taxpayers of SUSD.

•What goals do you hope to achieve if you are elected to the school board?

Number 1 on my list is trust.

The Board must regain trust of the community as we leave the era of deception, pay-offs, maleficence, and lies. As a board member, I would make everything as transparent as the law states.

Starting with this, I do not have any future political goals and I never thought I would run for an elected office. My concerns are for the students of SUSD, the employees, and the taxpayers of the SUSD community. I will tell the truth to all of the community no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

Two, the return excellence and I don’t mean test scores.

SUSD was one of the crown jewels for education and the district parents would want their students to be in. Now, with all of the turmoil SUSD has been through, we have become the “run away from district” (words from some of the parents that left SUSD for Paradise Valley, Mesa, and BASIS). We need to be open and welcome for all.

Along with trust, we must show respect for every single person who walks through the gates of SUSD. Students, teachers, parents, staff, community members, and school partners all need to be valued and celebrated. Without our students, community, and partners SUSD would not exist.

Grades excellence, we need to take what really works in some schools and put that in schools that are having troubles in those areas. That being said, we need to look demographically at those results. For example, what works in Yavapai, might not work in Anasazi. Success in Arcadia might not work in Saguaro. We need to take the success of one school and implement it in other demographically similar schools, then improve it.

Three, “gap kids.” Helping in SUSD for 10 years, I have seen it firsthand all too much. Students go from one grade where they don’t learn (for example) multiplication or language arts. Then, in the next grade, they can’t grasp higher level concepts, then the next grade concepts, and so on. These are the “gap kids” and they need help.

They are in every learning complex and most every school. Some sneak by with friends helping them, some get passed because the schools cannot have too many students held back because it “looks poorly” on them. Whatever the reason, whatever the difficulty, these students need our help and need it now.

Four, this one is easy, but hard. Retention. We need to pay our people a wage that makes them want to stay, and I’m not only talking about the teachers.

I love and live by the expression that “it takes a village.” Without bus drivers, cooks, electricians, grounds keepers, facility coordinators, security, and more, teachers wouldn’t have a place to teach, and administrators wouldn’t have anyone to administrate.

It’s that simple.

Teachers were thrust into the limelight with the Red for Ed movement, but it wasn’t just about teachers. If it was, then it would have been called Peach for Teach. It was about the conditions of education brought upon us by our state government. It was about the educational cuts we have endured over the past 20 plus years. It was about everyone that works at a school.

Now that budgets are going to start to increase, we must not forget everyone that works there. This brings on a simple question for today, why would anyone apply as a bus driver at SUSD when they could make more driving for the city or Valley Metro? Why would someone want to work as a cook for SUSD when they could make more at McDonalds? We need to change this to why wouldn’t you want to work at SUSD? Not why would you? That will start retention.

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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