Scottsdale Schools governing board president discusses Auditor General recommendations

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board President Bonnie Sneed was asked what she thought was the most challenging of the nine recommendations to correct inefficiencies at the district made public by a May 2015 Arizona Office of the Auditor General audit. This is what she had to say:

*What do you believe to be the most challenging of recommendations for the district to meet?

Bonnie Sneed

Bonnie Sneed

The district has lowered its central administrative costs significantly over the years, but purposefully and thoughtfully added administrative costs in the form of assistant principals at the school sites. SUSD made a concerted and deliberate effort to hire principals at each school site who are, first and foremost, tasked as being instructional leaders. This academically focused initiative and its corresponding expense were recognized during a previous strategic planning process that involved thousands of stakeholders.

The assistant principals are necessary to address the ever-increasing regulatory requirements from governmental agencies. This was a value-added measure that was clearly requested by our parents, and approved by our local voters in the last override language. To make this commitment to excellence, and still sit at only 2 percent higher administrative costs than peers is quite an achievement. Many of the centralized administrative positions are cost-effective because they serve all of our school sites, rather than paying someone at every site to fulfill increasing administrative requirements. We want our teachers to be devoted to teaching in the classroom and carry as little administrative burden as possible.

Building space and utilization is a problem for nearly all districts. It was a problem for us when we were growing, and it continues in a different form as we see enrollment losses. The biggest problem, in my mind, is that the state sets the very minimalist standard of square footage per pupil as though students merely sit at a desk in rows that fill up a classroom. It does not account for other space that has been customary in schools for decades, such as a gymnasium, art room, music room, band room, college and career center, computer room, special education space, or other programmatic space. I can confidently say that if our citizens saw what the minimum state standard for square footage actually means, they would wholeheartedly reject the notion that any school district should be judged by that comparison.

That being said, many of our elementary buildings are nearly 60 years old. Some were designed to accommodate students up through eighth grade, because that was a more economical model at the time they were built. But it was not necessarily the best academic model. SUSD moved to a middle school model, with approval from the voters. This provides for smaller schools, enabling principals to get to know their students and parents by name. It provides school space for academic delivery choices that parents desire. That does leave some of our buildings underutilized at the moment, especially the oldest ones. Should the governing board and voters approve to update our schools and make them future-ready, this could also alleviate some of the concerns of the Auditor General by reducing excess space.

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