SUSD begins to evaluate next steps with bond revenue expenditures

Over the summer, workers prepare Pima Traditional School and Hopi Elementary School for students and teachers to return, as both campuses underwent a full rebuild. The school projects are two of several originally earmarked to be paid for by a successful $229 million bond in November 2016. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

A hired consultant is evaluating the Scottsdale Unified School District’s $229 million bond to understand how best to spend available funds.

On Tuesday, Aug. 14, Dr. Walter “Skip” Brown presented the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and community a preliminary outline of his scope of work, and what future discussions are being earmarked for an Oct. 4 meeting.

During the November 2016 election, SUSD voters approved a $229 million bond to help pay for renovating, improving and constructing school facilities, school site safety measures and transportation vehicles, among other things.

A view of Pima Elementary School during rebuild. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Since the passed election, Hopi Elementary and Pima and Cheyenne traditional schools have had major renovations and construction; while SUSD high schools have undergone athletic field improvements; and schools are receiving safety updates.

The Governing Board scored a rubric early on that established which two schools were to be rebuilt first based on: age of building, enrollment, health of building and life cycle cost.

Dr. Brown, who says he is a product of Scottsdale Schools, will be evaluating existing data, meeting with stakeholders, monitoring the total bond package as is and participating and presenting in meetings as required, he says.

He plans to deliver a report summarizing services provided and recommendation of future bond program management initiatives by Oct. 4. Of initial impressions, maintenance and transportations sections of the bond project should continue as planned, Dr. Brown says, while work could be done in the construction and renovation areas.

Additionally, evaluating the enrollment, looking at school trends and viability, Dr. Brown says he believes there may be design and construction cost-saving strategies available.

“How small is too small? When dos a school become not viable? That’s a tough question,” Dr. Brown said. “It might be worth looking at. How should we deal with a school with declining enrollment? They’re not too small yet but heading in that direction. What kind of process needs to be put in place?”

In the construction and renovation categories, however, Dr. Brown says work could be done to refine processes to enhance transparency, data availability, communications and confidence.

“How do we do that, that makes sense to everyone involved?” he asked.

Dr. Brown says he is set to meet with the bond oversight committee on Aug. 28 to reaffirm projects completed and those under way are within the scope of the voter approved bond pamphlet.

He touched on creating a protocol for including stakeholder input comprised of parents, community members, local churches and nearby buildings. A notional calendar for each proposed rebuild project is also on Dr. Brown’s agenda, he says.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board, Interim Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard and Executive Admin Coordinator to Superintendent & Gov. Board Sondra Como. (photo by SUSD)

Trends and data

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board Vice President Kim Hartmann and other board members asked about previous studies to estimate enrollment trends and data. Discussion surrounded conducting a short-term study for the Oct. 4 discussion, and a second, long-term study later this year.

Kim Hartmann

“We’re building schools for 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” Ms. Hartmann said, referring to a past study by a firm called Applied Economics. “South Scottsdale is growing at a much larger pace then north Scottsdale, in the Paradise Valley area it was called aging in place. The economics are different now.”

Ms. Hartmann requested to see the information from the short-term study prior to their Oct. 4 meeting due to its complexity.

“The rubric that you referenced that we created in 2016, circumstances have changed, decisions we made then maybe we wouldn’t make now,” she said.

Governing Board member Pam Kirby requested to refer back to past reports by Applied Economics to see how close they came to their predictions.

“I would encourage us all to look at the 2014 report and see how accurate it is, if it was off, before we rubber stamp it,” she said. “I’d like to know why they believed it was off, and what they have achieved in their analytics.”

Governing Board member Allyson Beckham took an opposing view, stating she didn’t see as much value out of predictive studies.

“Scottsdale is a mature area, and typically, I could be wrong, but typically those studies are based on real estate and growth of real estate,” she said. “I don’t see it as valuable if it’s in the short-term.”

Ms. Beckham noted that if the scope of work is well defined, and meet the outcomes that the district is looking for, she may have a different opinion.

“It’s no longer based upon just children being in that district, it’s really based upon choice,” Ms. Beckham said of the different studies

“I don’t know how you predict that choice. No one could have predicted the exodus that was happening at Scottsdale the last six years unless you talked to the individuals to find out why they were leaving. I would be interested in knowing how he’s going to predict that choice piece, that behavior piece.”

Ms. Hartmann circled back around to how quickly the Governing Board may need to make these decisions based on construction costs and inflation.

“The inflation, cost of construction is going up significantly, it’s going to continue to go up,” Ms. Hartmann said.

“So, whatever data we need to best understand that and project that, and in addition to that, what’s the recommendation? If we think this is going to look like this in 12 months, 24 months, it may provide insight to how accelerated we want to be.”

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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