Eskildson: how Scottsdale Schools can and should move forward

The Scottsdale Unified School District has been in turmoil ever since hiring Denise Birdwell in January 2016. Fortunately, her CFO Laura Smith has been terminated, and Birdwell and COO Louis Hartwell are headed that direction.

Loyd Eskildson

Birdwell’s abuses brought the loss of hundreds of experienced and respected teachers and administrators, bloated overheads, and undermined the district’s integrity and reputation. They also wasted possibly $8 million in construction funding due to lack of control, favoritism, failure to utilize competitive bidding, possible kickbacks and other inappropriate activities.

Most of the district’s top leaders now are Birdwell appointees. Many either participated in or supported obviously inappropriate behaviors, were recently ‘pushed out’ of their last position, and/or have questionable qualifications to lead SUSD forward.

SUSD must now remove both these and all other excess administrators, and ensure it has hired a qualified, trustworthy, and aggressive person to lead its construction program in a new direction that emphasizes community satisfaction and maximum value. The community must also replace the entire Governing Board.

Meanwhile, competing charter schools are about to substantially expand. This could reduce SUSD revenues by as much as $7-plus million a year — limiting its ability to attract/retain quality staff and provide competitive programs.

Fending off this challenge requires SUSD to immediately set public, challenging, and credible goals for improving pupil achievement on nationally/internationally recognized tests, link staff rewards to their achievement, and regularly follow-up on progress. Unfortunately, instead of setting such goals, SUSD leaders have set a few trite goals (the Coronado Success Initiative), paraded lots of useless and complicated plans, and frequently misrepresented academic results to their advantage.

SUSD also must now undergo a zero-based budgeting process. High-cost/low-value expenditures such as assistant principals in elementary schools, separate gifted programs, and a plethora of specialists all must be re-examined in light of today’s increasingly competitive education market.

Incentives must also be established to prevent the return of unneeded expenditures, and for boosting community satisfaction. Multiple staff specialties must be combined/reduced. This could best be achieved by requiring education leaders to compare their expenditures, community satisfaction, and academic improvements with leading competitors, and setting additional relevant goals.

Unfortunately, SUSD leaders have instead disdained opportunities to learn from competitors, simply choosing to blame them for its own financial problems. None of the preceding will occur with strong, competent leadership at the top — honest leadership that has obtained credibility from turning around a large poorly managed public education entity facing strong competition; leadership that focuses on improving pupil achievement – now across the board!

There is no person within SUSD at this time who is even remotely qualified to do this. Thus, most importantly of all, SUSD must immediately look outside for a new superintendent.

That search must involve customer/parental input, and be transparent to the community if SUSD is to restore the community respect it once had and stop/reverse its pupil losses. Only then can the Scottsdale community be confident its students are best prepared to compete in our global world and otherwise contribute to society.

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a resident of the Town of Paradise Valley and vocal community advocate

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