Scottsdale Schools forges ahead with potential bond initiative

A view of SUSD Governing Board members Barbara Perleberg, George Jackson, Kim Hartman and Pam Kirby at a May 19 study session. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A view of SUSD Governing Board members Barbara Perleberg, George Jackson, Kim Hartmann and Pam Kirby at a May 19 study session. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board Tuesday, June 7 is expected to render a vote on whether or not the school entity will pursue a $200 million bond program over a six-year period.

Officials there say the bond program is needed to repair failing infrastructure that would otherwise fall into further disrepair.

After being presented with an analysis of declining enrollment and a detailed list of repairs needed at a number of schools, district leadership decided to pursue a potential six-year, $240 million bond at a May 5 study session, officials say.

With the tag-lines of “no increase in taxes” and “every campus touched,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell and Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien hosted an informational road show of sorts throughout the Scottsdale community earlier this month.

Following the informational meetings, School leaders gathered Thursday, May 19 to further flush-out the idea of a $200 million bond proposal that would likely come this November. As the process evolves, officials are unsure how much money would be allocated to each school, and what needs may or may not get included.

“Every school in the district has room to get better,” said Dr. Birdwell during the May 18 community meeting at Desert Mountain High School, 12575 E. Vía Linda.

While one school is asking for a gym and science labs, another school might need locks, she said. There are also two high schools who couldn’t use their track during track and field season because their poor quality was a safety issue.

“The governing board will have conversations about ‘here’s the bigger list, what gets done first?’” Dr. Birdwell explained to the crowd. “If it is stopping or inhibiting the ability to educate, we want to address that. Such as science labs — we want to get those done so that science can be taught in an appropriate manner for the students.”

Work inside the classroom needs to be done as well, the bond will not just be rebuilding schools assured Dr. Birdwell.

“Most recently we have increased our gifted program, we’ve increased our world languages,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“We are now addressing, as we go forward, the academic rigor in every school. I’ve explained to the governing board that changing brick and mortar doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re meeting the market. We have to change what’s going on inside the buildings.”

Legally, the district is required to use bond money for the items it is ear-marked for. Once the percentages per category are determined, the board is held accountable for that.

Among the items addressed in the bond:

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

“Every community that I’ve worked in, it’s very difficult for the governing board to come to the decision of whether or not they want to ask the taxpayers to do this,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“But the option is, however, whether they have no other option to fund the things that we’re talking about. So they have to make the decision if it’s OK that these two high schools have a track they can’t run on. If it’s OK that you don’t have a science building. That it’s OK these roofs leak.”

Showing the board

The governing board met on May 19 at the Mohave District Annex, 8490 E. Jackrabbit Road, for a study session where Dr. Birdwell and Mr. O’Brien presented the board with five schools — one from each learning community — and the types of repairs needed and costs estimated.

The long-listed documents are still just a draft, said Mr. O’Brien, and were comprised of input received from the community meetings, e-mails and school principals. The board is expected to see the final draft on June 2, said Dr. Birdwell.

A view of the SUSD leadership, on left, presenting the governing board, on right, with bond information. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

A view of the SUSD leadership, on left, presenting the governing board, on right, with bond information. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“Before you see it on the second, we will have met with every principal again for a final list of their ideas and their buildings, and then we have a chance for input one more time,” said Dr. Birdwell during the study session. “And then we bring you the final list that says,‘here is everything we heard, here is the dollars that are associated with that.”

The final list will be exceeding the estimated $240 million, said Dr. Birdwell, because the governing board will then whittle the list down to decide what takes priority.

“It’s OK to say, ‘no’ to some things, it’s OK to say, ‘this is the material we’re going to use, rather than maybe a different material that’s going to escalate the cost,’” she said.

Items used as examples included completely rebuilding Cherokee Elementary, which comes with asbestos issues; security needs at Mohave Middle School; and replacing the roof at Coronado High School, which comes with the cost associated with carefully removing and replacing solar panels.

During the meeting Governing Board member Pam Kirby expressed her sentiments to Dr. Birdwell for setting up a well put together road map for the board to follow.

“Will the board, even in year one, along the way get financial updates on how we’re coming in, against these original budget figures so that we know are we beating the road map or are we falling behind?” asked Ms. Kirby.

Examining the process along the way will be critical, said Dr. Birdwell.

Board member Barbara Perleberg also stated her gratitude to Dr. Birdwell for being explanatory in the process, and commented on her experience going to three of the community forums in the past days.

“I just wanted to comment on the change and culture shift that I’ve seen in this district over the last few months,” said Ms. Perleberg. “I think the way you’re going at this, and rolling it out and bringing it to our community shows that change in a very real way.”

Being informed

High school parent, Sari Smith, said she thinks the community meetings the district held were informative and is pleased the district is trying alternative methods of getting information out.

“Since it was here, I was able to take advantage of hearing what’s going on and what they’re trying to prepare,” said Ms. Smith. “I think that if I want and need to be up-to-date on what’s going on, then I have to go onto the website, and go to more meetings and be more involved.”

The lack of parents at the meeting represented just how many parents really know what’s going on, Ms. Smith believes. The crowd was a lot of district officials scattered with a few parents.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell speaking to parents at a May 18 community meeting at Desert Mountain High School. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell speaking to parents at a May 18 community meeting at Desert Mountain High School. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“They do the best job that they can, obviously. I think the numbers are informational, the slides as far as what they want to do, and want to incorporate with the funds is definitely something that’s needed by more parents,” said Ms. Smith. “Clearly by the show of who is here tonight, it’s a lot of people who work for the district or are already involved and come to these on a regular basis.”

The mom of two knows there are people who are trying to get the word out but says most folks she knows are not really informed about what’s going on in their small community.

“I definitely don’t think people are doing the website thing,” said Ms. Smith. “It’s got to be a little bit more word of mouth, it’s got to be a matter of getting it out there in every possible way that they can, even if it’s radio or TV.”

“What are the people looking at on a daily basis? It’s probably not a flyer that their kid is bringing home.”

Ms. Sari has one son who recently graduated Desert Mountain and now attends University of Arizona, and a son who is a junior at Desert Mountain getting ready to graduate early.

“A lot of the times it’s not these young families that are living here, because of affordability, they have been here for a while and their kids are graduated already,” said Ms. Smith.

“They are not invested in our school system anymore. They’re like been there, done that. But what about our kids? I’m not going to not vote on something because my kid is graduating. You’ve got to look to our young kids for the future.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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