This analysis comes to ScottsdaleTrails courtesy of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale. While I have disagreed (sometimes vigorously) with COGS, and in particular the author (former city council candidate Copper Phillips), this appears to be a well-crafted perspective on the current problems within SUSD.
However, in my humble opinion, the fourth bullet–declining enrollment–is the most critical. This drives a number of the other factors; and is, in turn, driven by a perception in the community that SUSD is not doing a good job of educating the children of the District. It’s a downward spiral that will require real leadership to arrest…and dabbling in real estate deals or neighborhood revitalization isn’t going to help.
Clearly, SUSD Superintendent David Peterson isn’t getting the job done. The question is, when will YOUR elected representatives in the SUSD board majority–Bonnie Sneed, George Jackson, and Kim Hartmann–get with the program and find a replacement.
COGS Board Member’s comments 18 May 2015
Scottsdale Unified School District May 2015 Audit Report
NOTE: Do not compare Scottsdale with the state average numbers, as this number includes charters, many of which have fewer than 200 students which inflates the state average considerably. It is best to use the Peer District numbers.
- Scottsdale’s achievement test scores, just slightly higher than peer districts, are not statistically significantly better than peer districts; the same is true for the graduation rate. Scottsdale schools are typically much smaller than the peer district schools so scores should have been much higher academically than peer districts. Scottsdale’s wealth and educated population contributes considerably to better scores.
- The USFR (Uniform System of Financial Records) has been in place for about 35 years and has been used by every district since inception. It’s coding is not ambiguous and each expenditure category is clearly defined. That begs the question of why SUSD finance staff cannot or will not use appropriate codes, despite several directives to do so.
- Administrative costs are higher than peer districts by 11%, which is significant. Few districts place assistant principals at schools with student enrollment less than 850. Research states the most important factor in student learning is the teacher, not administrators. This year, Scottsdale is one of a very few districts in the state without a dedicated special education director position. The position was cut as a budget savings. Special education is the most complex and litigious area of education, which is why most districts have a special education director with extensive special education experience. Was this a wise decision?
- SUSD enrollment is declining, student achievement is approximate to peer districts, student awards/recognition are not increasing, and teachers are leaving. The salaries for Paradise Valley USD, Deer Valley USD, Peoria USD, Gilbert USD and Mesa USD superintendents, assistant superintendents and directors should be compared to that of the Scottsdale’s administrators. Which ones are equitable/competitive?
- IT staffing and salaries are excessive. Numerous security risks were identified in the report–are the skill levels and responsibilities of those in charge appropriate? Is outsourcing services a good idea?
- The biggest issue identified is too many schools with too few students (too much unused square footage). That means additional administrative and support staff salaries factored into fewer students, creating a higher administrative ratio.
- Transportation routes are picking up too few students and routes are not routinely adjusted in response. Other districts change bus routes by the third week of school to accommodate changes in ridership. The bus route system is computerized so changes must be entered for the system to devise appropriate, efficient routes. This is a routine function of a transportation department, so again, why isn’t this part of the routine in Scottsdale?
- While 2012 classroom spending appears to be greater than peers, additional funding sources were added (override money, and additional desegregation money). Peer districts did not use these additional sources, so the comparison is questionable.
When auditors initially found and reported errors to the district, no change was made. Coding errors were huge, like claiming electricity expenses as instructional costs rather than plant operating costs. The report is sent to the Superintendent, who shares it with the Governing Board. Required changes beginning 2004 were not made. Why not? Why didn’t the Board hold superintendents accountable for correcting the errors? Why didn’t those superintendents hold the respective directors accountable?
Several of the issues identified in the current report were previously identified, but the transportation inefficiency problems should have been obvious, as should the IT concerns. The finance coding errors were so obviously wrong that intent should be questioned. What steps will be put into place to ensure the recommendations and directives are followed this time?
Scottsdale USD must be a district of superior achievement and cutting edge, innovative instruction to attract and keep students. Given the continuing loss of student enrollment to charter and private schools, Scottsdale schools must consider its direction, decisions and practices. Fortunately for SUSD, we have an involved, supportive and educated community.
Joanne “Copper” Phillips can be reached at email@example.com