Tonalea elementary closing offers more questions than answers

The closing of Tonalea Elementary School at 68th Street and Oak leaves a void in the community. My children still ask why the school stands empty. The community also wonders when the Scottsdale Unified School District will bring the school back.

Edmond Richard

Edmond Richard

During the closure of that location, there was an implied promise to reopen and rebuild the school for the community and children. Unfortunately, something else became public before a plan for rebuilding the school.

This new plan was a lease for the school, by the school district, to former board vice-president Denny Brown for a dollar a month! As a neighbor of the school, this deal is upsetting. I want answers. I was then forwarded a link to a survey that gave the impression that more to this plan was already underway.

Did I miss a mailer from the school district? Was something put on my door and blew away? The sponsors of this survey are the school district Scottsdale Unified School District, ASU, and United Food Bank. All three of the organizations logos are present on the survey, so they must be sponsoring this, right?

We were told the closing of Tonalea was because of safety issues. The community was told there is asbestos in the school. So with a school that is unfit for our children, why would someone put a food bank or a resource center in there? That was the impression given by that survey and its wording.

Why would the school district give Mr. Brown a lease to a dangerous school? Even for a dollar, an unheard of amount for a lease for a public school per month, why is this school leased to Mr. Brown? This raised more troubling questions.

Did Mr. Brown always have this plan for a resource center/food bank? Why did he not excuse himself from the closure vote for the Tonalea School? The community needed answers, our neighborhood school was being stolen away.

With the community made aware of this, we made our presence known at the Jan. 13 school board meeting. The repurposing of the school was buried in an information discussion called “Scottsdale Unified School District Resource Center.” It was to be presented by Dr. Andi Fourlis of SUSD and Denny Brown.

The room filled with the community dressed in red. Red was the color selected to represent the neighborhood united. So even with an obvious public presence, the information item was about to be pulled. That did not go over well with those in attendance. The information item was kept on, after some board member discussion.

The community spoke with passion and purpose. We have the Vista del Camino community center, which has a food bank and other services, within two miles of Tonalea. There are other nonprofits and community centers, such as the Paiute community center and the Boys & Girls club also nearby. They are all within a trolley ride or walking distance.

The school district has the task of educating children. The district does not have a mastery of its primary mission, education of all the children in its schools. Setting up resource centers is not the job of the school district.

Denny Brown did not show up, and board members Pam Kirby and Barbara Perleberg raised more questions than answers on the presentation given. Those two board members took it upon themselves to apologize for this issue causing such community unrest.

For the moment the Tonalea School at 68th Street and Oak is not going to become a resource center. There was an announcement that Mr. Brown has terminated his lease with the district that very day.

This district needs to get back to educating the children to the highest level possible. Until that is done, any further ventures into social services need to be left to those who already provide such services.

The school district can partner with the city and others in the future for such ventures. Whatever happens, the community, the neighborhood, must be kept informed.

No more leaving the public in the dark. Now the community still misses its neighborhood school and has learned to keep a very watchful eye on the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Editor’s note: Mr. Richard is a Scottsdale resident

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