Copper PhillipsThis 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

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  1. The Coalition contributor has done a solid job of summarizing the Low Points of Dave Peterson ‘ s abuse of our Community Schools

    The single most offensive atrocity is that Peterson used his own waste and his own false reporting as an excuse to wreck our K-5 schools this year.

    First waste.
    Topped by deceipt.
    Followed by abuse of our own kids’ schools.

    We all campaigned for the SUSD Override hoping no one was lying to us.

    We were fools to believe.

  2. I agree with this. Peterson has a crisis of confidence with the public. He was giving the rosy view to the Tonalea community and now with this, what happens? Does he continue and ignore the obvious pack of wolves he has created? How can anyone trust the district when it has tainted books?

    How many people are just OK with the blatant issues that Peterson has not dealt with? From a simple security prospective it should result in the TERMINATION of several IT staff and superiors. That is just for the poor/slipshod security of ids! Now what about FERPA issues for the systems now compromised because of the generic ids?

    Who can say it is OK to miscode, for so long, expenses? Who is running the district? Is this truly a district of – “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Come on now! I showed my 2nd grade son where the numbers should go – HE can do it! If my 2nd grade son can do it, why can’t SUSD?

    So they ‘fixed’ the problems. So when and were are the revised reports for the district? The voters passed an override on the needs of this district, but what was the true condition of the district?

    Someone needs to step up in the district and say the issue is being corrected in the following manner – we terminated some people – and we are going to work with the state to publish new figures for the following years. We also have in place better checks and balances to prevent this from happening again.

    Now that is common sense, but will Peterson get the hint? The public has no confidence in the district! That has to be fixed – ASAP! Will he resign as an offering of good will to the public who was duped by suspect numbers? Who is going to take the responsibility and do the right thing?

  3. Excellent job Copper, thanks for posting this John. I agree with Mr. Norton, we were the fools to believe SUSD and vote for the override. After the election, SUSD ws dumping $$$ like crazy into PR campaigns to pat themselves on the back rather than putting money into the classroom.

  4. Its not all of SUSD. There are so many good people in the District, don’t use a fraudulent Chief Exec as reason to toss out the whole public school system. Peterson and the Board Majority supporting him need to get thrown out.

  5. It is really frustrating to jump back into school district issues infractions from 1997-99 still being committed.

    As a Progressive, for the most part, politically, I was asked to come back to help the neighborhood schools in southern Scottsdale, my home neighborhoods, get back programs that our Governing Board allowed to move elsewhere and help bring the district into better communications with parents, neighbors and the local
    business community.

    Copper Phillips knows the history of issues in SUSD. You can trust her analysis. If anyone complains about the community’s concerns, and that we aren’t focused on the students, they need to get real.

    SUSD has some great teachers and principals, educators all. Not politicians or bankers.

    This year we have for the first time seen political campaigns for City Council and Governing Board cross over, blurring the lines of separation. Those who did should be called out and it should never happen again. Dealings between SUSD and the City of Scottsdale should be in public and not dealt with as the prize in smoke filled political campaign back rooms, at any level of government.

  6. There are many unanswered question about issues in the Coronado Complex schools, liked u the mysterious development of the resource center at Tonalea – whose idea was it to pursue that center after neighbors and parents had been told the campus was not safe for students? Did the Governing Board approve that project and when was it discussed in public? Who was responsible for the maintenance and utilities when the Resource Center was open? Who held the liability insurance on the property? A few questions that have been circulating through the community. Who gave permission for a third party outside of the district to use student contact information for surveys? Who gave permission for the district logo to be used on surveys sent to students families? How many members of the Governing Board were involved in soliciting nonprofits to partner in the resource center and when was the project approved by the Governing Board so the survey and the solicitation could be undertaken?

    If you really believe in kids being well educated, get involved.

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