Scottsdale Schools override picks up support; bond pitch questioned

(file photo)

(file photo)

Scottsdale Unified School District voters Tuesday, Nov. 8 will be deciding on more than just elected leaders — a bond initiative and a capital override that could have a significant impact on the youth of the community is also on the ballot.

Both initiatives are a large ask — $229 million for the bond, and $8.5 million override for seven years beginning in fiscal year 2017-18 — that district officials say are necessary to assist in the funding shortcomings provided by the Arizona Legislature.

A bond is one way the school district can ask taxpayers to support them above and beyond what elected leaders at the Arizona Legislature chooses to give them. It can legally only be used for buildings and buses.

The capital override allows the district to collect taxpayer’s dollars for additional funding and support to pay for items such as books, curriculum, technology, chairs, desks and playground equipment. The last capital override the district had ended two years ago.

Agree to disagree

Scottsdale Unified School District parent Edmond Richard and Scottsdale Parent Council President Cindy Bitcon both support the capital override, but have differing opinions on the bond.

“Capital overrides need to be renewed by voters every seven years and the SUSD capital override expired two years ago,” Ms. Bitcon said in an Oct. 27 emailed response to questions. “The state has cut capital funding for eight years. These funds pay for curriculum materials, school and student software licensing fees, textbooks, and costs relating to fine arts and sports.”

District officials have said the override is being earmarked for:

  • Curriculum and technology resources;
  • Furniture, fixtures and equipment;
  • Fine arts, athletics and library programs;
  • And playground equipment and safety codes.

The capital override impact, based on a $80,000 home would be $1.20 per month, and $14.34 per year, school officials say.

Mr. Richard says he also supports the override in order for the district to purchase new academic materials.

“SUSD has been playing the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul, since, for the past two years the district has operated without a capital override in place,” Mr. Richard said in a Oct. 25 e-mailed response to questions. “It is time for the district to quit robbing other capital needs to try to continue to operate. The capital override for SUSD needs to pass.”

The bond, on the other hand, is an initiative Mr. Richard says he has more trouble supporting because it is what he calls, “a blank check,” while the leadership is in flux. Two new governing board members will be installed in January, and Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell’s future with the district is still unknown while the current board says it wants to hold a national superintendent search this fall, although no public plans to do so have been announced.

“The SUSD bond effort is a blank check to leadership to be named later,” he said. “I cannot support blank checks with leaders I don’t know.”

The bond earmarks

District officials are saying that repairs and related prices the bond is earmarked for include:

  • Eight elementary schools need to be re-built; 56.6 percent
  • 22 schools need life cycle improvements; 21.5 percent
  • 9 schools need learning environment re-models; 9.2 percent
  • Transportation updates in all five learning communities; 2.6 percent
  • Security upgrades at every school; 3.3 percent
  • Physical education and athletics needs at all five high schools; 6.8 percent

The bond impact, based on a $100,000 home would be $2.38 per month, and $28.50 per year.

Even with an earmarked list, the order and schedule in which schools would be repaired is at the governing board’s discretion.

Edmond Richard

Edmond Richard

“The proposal is to only spend $40 million a year to rebuild schools and repair them. Which schools and when? We have no idea,” Mr. Richard explained. “Those discussions only start next year, if the bond passes. There are no concrete plans in existence right now.”

Ms. Bitcon says she supports the bond after attending work studies and board meetings last year and being impressed with the length of work the district put into assessing the needs of the district.

“We have schools that are 60 years old,” she said. “It is time to retire these buildings and stop putting band-aids on them.”

She says in addition to repairing failing infrastructure, the bond will allow the district to increase other educational needs.

“The bond will also allow the district to address specific needs at specific schools, such as a gym and science labs at Cheyenne, and updated athletic fields at our high schools,” she explained.

Out of options

If neither voter-approved initiative can pass, both SUSD parents agree there are not any other options.

“There is no magic source of funds to compensate for either one,” says Mr. Richard.

The south Scottsdale parent would like to see the district talk of consolidation and reorganization first in order to cut costs.

“As it stands now, they simply state they need the capital override, but must continue to take from other capital needs, as they have for the past two years,” he said. “As it stands now, the district has painted itself into a corner and now needs the capital override funds or the children suffer.”

Ms. Bitcon also states there is no “plan B.”

Cindy Bitcon

Cindy Bitcon

“School districts in Arizona have been cut to the bone, and I do not know how the Governing Board would deal with the challenges if these measures do not pass,” she said. “There are no other funds out there to pay for the facilities needs in our schools, and I wonder whether these older buildings can stay operational until another election cycle.”

In Mr. Richard’s opinion, if the bond fails the district could be forced to begin operating in a different manner.

“Schools will fall further into disrepair as only the most critical needs are met, but the district will operate. That can be a blessing as the district will then be forced one step closer to operate in the most efficient manner possible,” he said. “That means only operating as school buildings that have stable or growing student populations and then closing or consolidation of schools that don’t meet that criterion.”

The conversation to do so would not be an easy one, in Mr. Richard’s opinion, but the district cannot continue to operate buildings that end up emptier as the years go by.

With children at risk, Ms. Bitcon believes these tax initiatives will greatly impact the youth if they don’t pass.

“I view it as my responsibility as a Scottsdale taxpayer to support our future leaders,” she said. “I am a product of public education and am grateful to the taxpayers who support my schools in my youth.”

She believes supporting children is a benefit that is invaluable.

“Every child and every teacher in the district benefits when the district is operating with a workable budget and is not facing crisis situations with facilities and funding,” she said.

“Approving these needed funds will allow our Governing Board and administration to take care of our facilities and focus on ensuring that our schools are delivering a world class, 21st Century education to all.”

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.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.