Eskildson: Birdwell tenure at Scottsdale Schools raises more questions than answers

Editor’s note: According to a letter received by the Independent Monday, Nov. 13 Mr. Robichaux is no longer employed at Hunt & Caraway Architects as of Nov. 1, a letter from Tamara Caraway states.

Three weeks after Denise Birdwell became Scottsdale Schools’ leader, a purchase order was issued (2/8/16) for Hunt and Caraway Architects — largely to provide a master plan analysis regarding SUSD’s planned $200-plus million bond issue for rebuilding/renovating elementary schools.

Loyd Eskildson

Yet, the board didn’t approve that purchase order until 4/19/16. $163,764 was paid. SUSD’s response to my recent request for a copy of the SUSD ‘Facilities Master Plan’ was “the district has no documents responsive to your request.”

The award was reportedly based on “the competitive sealed proposal method” because “competitive sealed bidding was not practicable or advantageous to the district.”

Louis Hartwell, SUSD’s new COO, told the board the selection was largely based on reputational factors.

Court records document that Brian Robichaux, current owner of H&C, was convicted of felony theft, final judgment signed 9/20/2004. Robichaux was back in court recently involving a $40,332 judgment against him by former H&C owners.

H&C also provided architect services for Higley’s two middle-schools while Birdwell was superintendent — they created “the two most expensive schools in Arizona history” (Arizona Tax Research Association) that will hobble that district for decades to come. Robichaux has also undergone foreclosure action on his home, HOA and IRS liens. BuildZoom.com rates H&C in the bottom half of all Phoenix-area architects.

I’ve requested documentation of who selected H&C as the architect for most of the architectural work for SUSD’s $229 million bond issue, as well as the criteria used. Still waiting.

Many District residents wonder why Birdwell was hired at SUSD. Besides the previously-referenced middle-school construction fiasco, one of her most notable ‘accomplishments’ at Higley schools involved plagiarizing.

When exposed, Birdwell blamed her secretary and her own recovering from surgery. An ASU professor called it “unethical,” “dishonest,” and “a poor model for students and staff.”

Many within the SUSD community have found Birdwell extremely rude and a very large number of teachers and well-respected administrators left because of this. One was Christine Marsh, “2016 Arizona Teacher of the Year” — a 24-year AP English teacher at Chaparral. She moved to the Cave Creek district. Birdwell’s rudeness had already been publicized at HUSD.

Governing Board member Pam Kirby rationalized recruiting Birdwell because of apparent “success” building HUSD achievement and enrollment levels.

Those improvements, however, were far more likely due to HUSD transitioning from a farming to a rural community during Birdwell’s tenure. Supporting that conclusion is the fact that SUSD AZMERIT trends show no positive impact from her SUSD tenure.

Chaparral, Coronado, and Saguaro high schools recently repaired their football fields. This year SUSD paid H&C $525,000 for architectural fees. Previously an architect had not been involved.

Why now? Another associated “coincidence” — Core Construction was hired to do the work, the same company involved in the HUSD fiasco. Why was it selected? BuildZoom.com doesn’t even rate Core within the top 50 area contractors!

Again, I’m waiting for documentation.

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a resident of Scottsdale

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