Scottsdale Schools: the dollars and cents of bond, override

A view of one of the many Scottsdale Unified School District school sites. (File photo)

A view of one of the many Scottsdale Unified School District school sites. (File photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District has begun community outreach to inform parents and community members about the millions of dollars needed inside and outside of its schools.

Those living within the district boundaries will see on the Tuesday, Nov. 8 election ballot a $229 million bond, and an $8.5 million capital override.

Both of which, district officials say are crucial to the future of students.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell and Chief Financial Officer Daniel O’Brien kicked off the start of five meetings held with the purpose of informing the community about what the district was facing; and why it was asking for the two voter-approved items.

A bond is one way the school district can ask the taxpayers to support them above and beyond what the state gives them, said Mr. O’Brien during a Sept. 28 community meeting held at Chaparral High School.

A bond 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 ended two years ago.

Following the gutting of state funding, the large ask is necessary, said Mr. O’Brien.

“The state of Arizona — since 2008 or ‘10 — we’ve not been funded about $37 million,” he explained.

In the 1990s, an Arizona School Facilities Board was created to build schools and major preventative maintenance on school buildings. Once the recession started in 2008, the state began cutting the board’s funding.

“As of about two or three years ago, the state quit funding it all together,” he said. “So we receive no dollars from the school facilities board to do major repairs, preventative maintenance and things like that on our buildings and our systems.”

Scottsdale Schools CFO Daniel O'Brien answer questions about the bond and override at a June 8 governing board meeting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Scottsdale Schools CFO Daniel O’Brien answer questions about the bond and override at a June 8 governing board meeting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The bond

“The bond touches every school building,” said Mr. O’Brien during the Sept. 28 Chaparral meeting.

In the spring, the district began a needs assessment on its 29 physical school campuses.

District officials are saying that repairs and price 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

“We’re looking at what are those lifecycles that those schools might need and what is the cost of it,” he said. “In a few of these cases — actually eight of them — the cost to get all of those lifecycles done starts to get so high up there that actually rebuilding the school becomes just as costly or even in some cases, possible a little bit cheaper than trying to do these major repairs.”

Some of the district’s schools date back to 1953 and construction will include the mitigation of asbestos.

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

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board will decide in what order schools will be re-built and worked on, based on safety needs.

“They will prioritize which of these rebuilds will occur first,” explained Dr. Birdwell.

“Each rebuild is its own complex issue — with the most complex sitting at Hopi and others being less difficult due to how they’re sitting on the property of which we own.”

The re-build process will take anywhere between 12 to 24 months, she said.

In June, Brian Robichaux, president of Hunt and Caraway Architects, presented the governing board with preliminary elementary campus remodel plans. The “mixed phase” building would include three steps:

First building new administration, classroom and multi-purpose buildings on the property;

Then removing the old school buildings;

Finally constructing play fields on old building property.


The school district is seeking additional district assistance by asking for $8.5 million for seven years, beginning in fiscal year 2017-18.

“The maintenance and operating override paid for lowering class sizes, bring back specials and raises,” said Mr. O’Brien. “Capital by state law is for things we need to buy like books, curriculum, technology, chairs, the tables and playground equipment.”

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.

District taxpayers previously paid for a capital override for seven years, but it ended two years ago. The last capital override was just over $10 million, said Mr. O’Brien.

“By state law we can go up to $13 million but again, we’re only asking for what we need,” he said.

Dr. Birdwell says Scottsdale Unified School District will try to help fund the classroom as much as possible.

“Our goal will be to get as much capital dollars into the classroom as possible to assist in the shortage that teachers and administrators have felt for multiple years,” she said.

The override dollars spent will be decided at both the district level and the school level. While the district won’t dictate what pieces of athletic equipment will be bought, for example, they will be involved in the larger decisions.

“In my last 20 years in teaching, this is my first district where teachers aren’t using laptops,” she said. “It’s unusual today, to find teachers without a laptop to make a classroom portable to go home, put the kids to bed and work on my lessons.”

Helping assist teachers in the job of instruction is one of her top priorities, she explained at the Chaparral meeting.

“As we look at technology, there are some conversations we need to have of how are we assisting the teacher in the job of instruction, and is there a better way to do the business we’re doing,” she said.

“We began to look at the advancement in learning and education and that is very much capital driven, and that is why it’s important to us. We’d prefer not to ask, but quite honestly we have very little capital money if we don’t ask.”

The next community meetings are scheduled to be:

  • 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 – Arcadia Learning Community: Mt. Olympus, Arcadia High School, 4703 E. Indian School Road
  • 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4 – Saguaro Learning Community: Community Room, Saguaro High school, 6250 N. 82nd Street
  • 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5 – Desert Mountain Learning Community: Room 5121, Desert Mountain High School, 12575 E. Via Linda

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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