SUSD: A Thousand Ways to Be Dishonest

There are a thousand ways to be dishonest without actually telling a lie.

Tuyo Realmente.

 

First of all, Happy New Year to all you loyal ScottsdaleTrails readers! I’ve been posting a few little things on the ScottsdaleTrails Facebook page, which in some ways is easier to follow than the website…particularly if you are a regular Facebook user. So click on over there and “like” it!

For the first real post of the new year, I unfortunately have another bad news story of public corruption in Scottsdale. In case you don’t follow the politics of the Scottsdale Unified School District (a political subdivision of the state for which all property owners within SUSD boundaries pay property taxes), you should be aware that SUSD voters recently approved a Maintenance and Operations budget override. The “M&O” gives the district millions of dollars more in taxing authority to levy taxes which are going to come out of your pocket.

The district has, like all AZ school districts, been chronically underfunded lately by our genius AZ State Legislature, which would rather spend the money defending themselves from lawsuits. So, SUSD needed the money, but voters skeptical of the district administration’s ability to control itself barely passed the override.

Almost at the same time as the override election was taking place in November, the SUSD governing board (with two seats opening after that term) was taking a vote to close Tonalea Elementary School at 68th Street and Oak due to under-utilization, and the expense required to keep it open. Kids in that area were subsequently bused to other schools outside their normal boundary.

Now we’ve found out that one of those lame-duck school board members appears to have been secretly negotiating a deal to gain control of a portion of Tonalea’s campus (the “media center”) for a $1 a year, including utilities!

Denny Brown, former vice-president of the SUSD governing board, former church sexton, former salesman, and one-time candidate for Scottsdale City Council, is that lucky lessee. Inadvertent hints point to Brown’s intention to operate a non-profit “community resource center” entitled “United Food Bank” at that location.

When I got wind of it, I emailed questions to David Peterson, SUSD superintendent. These are the questions and the responses.

Mr. Washington,

The survey was conducted by ASU students as part of a research grant as I understand it. I had no involvement in it except to support finding out what needs exist in our community. I agree that the language used implies something that does not exist. United Food Bank representatives did talk with me about needs in the community and that was it. I have not received anything about a partnership or a request to enter into one.

In regards to your questions:

1. Is the City of Scottsdale aware of this effort? If so, with whom have you been communicating about it?

I did meet with the Director at the Paiute Center about their needs back in August. I have not had any other conversation with City of Scottsdale Staff about moving this idea forward. I believe Mr. Brown has talked with City people but I don’t know who they are or when they met.

2. Have you or any other involved parties pursued any zoning entitlements or city/county/state permits related to this effort?

No. The idea is just that and I have not pursued anything further.

3. How will this effort relate to or overlap with the City’s efforts like Vista del Camino?

That would have to be explored if the idea is further developed. I do not have any information from the City to know how efforts would be related.

4. Have you or any other involved parties entered into any agreements relating to this effort?

I have not entered into any agreements relating to this effort [emphasis added]. This has only been an idea. Any type of agreement would have to be approved publicly by the Governing Board. We did approve the idea of the ASU people conducting a survey to assess the needs of the community. The survey was done by the ASU people and we did not participate in its questions or its implementation.

5. Have you or any other involved parties expended any funds relating to this effort?

The only funds expended would be the time I spent meeting with the Director at Paiute and the ASU and United Food Bank people. I also visited the Chandler Public Schools and Tempe Schools Resource Centers. The total time would be approximately five hours over the last 5 months.

6. Under what statutory authority are you pursuing this effort?

Currently we have not pursued the idea in order to obtain statutory authority. If the idea is something our Governing Board is wanting us to look into further we will do that.

Dr. David J Peterson
Superintendent
Scottsdale Unified School District

Since I received that reply from Dr. Peterson yesterday, I received a copy of the lease between SUSD and Denny Brown (in his own name), which Mr. Brown signed on December 9, 2014 (while he was technically still on the SUSD board) and Dr. Peterson signed on January 6, 2015, six days before he answered my question with this reply, “I have not entered into any agreements relating to this effort.” [Correction: It was pointed out to me that the unreadable signature on the lease was actually that of SUSD CFO Danny O’Brien, not Peterson. Which of course does NOT mean that Peterson did NOT know about it!]

I think you can draw your own conclusions about whether Dr. Peterson was dishonestly parsing the language of my question and his reply so as to answer disingenuously without actually lying.

I’m going to be very frank here. I think Denny Brown is a little self-serving weasel. He may very well have committed some sort of statutory violation relating to conflict of interest. Even if the Attorney General doesn’t pursue the complaint that I understand has been filed, Brown has lost any shred of credibility he ever had, if any.

I had an exchange with Denny during the recent SUSD election campaign in which he and candidate Francesca Thomas questioned the integrity of candidate Laddie Guy Shane (both candidates were ultimately unsuccessful). I documented some of this in a ScottsdaleTrails article last year entitled “School Board Slug Fest.”

In that article I quoted a comment by Mr. Brown during his unsuccessful 2012 city council election campaign:

“We need to create a culture of civility and respect.”

Dishonesty and conflicts of interest do neither. Yet this is pretty typical of those on the city council who hide from criticism of self-serving agendas behind a veil of “civil dialog,” which I’ve thoroughly documented on ScottsdaleTrails.

I’ll be equally frank about Peterson. I don’t like folks being dishonest with me, regardless of whether that dishonesty comprises lying. I don’t draw a distinction between the two, even though apparently Peterson does. And I don’t want my kid or any other SUSD student being under the influence of such a person. If SUSD could teach only one thing, it should teach honesty.

I was willing to give Peterson the benefit of the doubt prior to his dishonest statements to me. Now I fully question every deal–real estate or otherwise–to which Peterson has agreed on behalf of SUSD.

I would encourage you to keep an eye on Peterson. Follow the “Respect our Scottsdale Students” (aka “ROSS”) Facebook page. And attend an SUSD governing board meeting if you can. You can also email the board members collectively at govbrd@susd.org.

There was (and may still be ongoing) a meeting of the board this evening, which I could not attend. I understand an agenda item relating to this issue was to be pulled from the agenda by the board president, but I cannot confirm that it was actually pulled.

David Peterson serves at the pleasure of the governing board which you elected. They can fire him, if there are enough among them who are–as I am–outraged at Peterson’s dishonest behavior. If there aren’t, you should make note of the ones who through inaction approve dishonesty, and keep in mind for the next election…or recall, whichever comes first.

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6 Comments

  1. For two years a changing, but small, group of people who are ferociously dedicated to public education in Scottsdale have banded in an effort to fix our schools. We, a changing group, became the contributors known as ROSS.

    Most of the people who contribute receive their salaries from the District. I have edited this page with four others only because I cared for my own children’s education and I cared equally for the teachers and administrators who do such marvelous work for our kids. We agreed to become the editors so people who would be fired for speaking out could actually speak out.

    It is time to retake control of our District. As we take control we must demand refocus on education of our children and preservation of the careers of the best of our teachers who accomplish that task so well every day.

    Please support Pam Kirby in the effort . We are not trying to achieve acceptable standards. We are trying to raise the bar so high that 20 years from now we look at a community stuffed with brilliant 30 year olds who benefited from our efforts.

    Retake control. We have a leader. Pam is that person. We just need to recognize and support her brilliance and commitment.

    I am stepping out now. I applaud every person who took a chance to make our schools better. Thank you Ed, Chris, Jason, Greg, Dana, Debra, and every single person who I can’t mention. You are the true leaders of our community. I applaud you once again. Your daily commitments amaze the rest of us. I am proud to call you my friends. I am proud to have a chance to help you in your remarkable efforts.

    And, to you, Jimmy Judson and a certain S.E.A. president – you amaze me.

  2. An open letter to Dr. Peterson:

    Dear Dr. Peterson,

    First, let me clarify that I have no administrative rights to modify or post to this page [ROSS Facebook page] other than as a member of the general public.

    Second, let me clarify that I am not “out to get you fired.” Frankly, I don’t care enough about you to try. You’ll be gone soon enough just like all the other Superintendents that have paraded through Scottsdale since 1985.

    In 2000, I made a promise to a woman that exemplified what it means to provide social services for the poor and marginalized children who attend SUSD’s schools. Her name was Francis Young. I promised that, for as long as I lived in Scottsdale, our school district would never experience a repeat of what happened in 1998 if I had the ability to prevent it.

    I found it ironic that last night the Board received its annual Open Meeting Training, which is required because of what happened in 1998. I realize that as time goes on, many of those who were present in 1998 have died or moved away, but there are still enough people who remember.

    Yes, it was primarily about millions of dollars of misappropriated bond monies. But it was also about a sweetheart deal between the School District and a former Board member.

    Sadly, the District didn’t learn its lesson the first time and entered into a second (different) sweetheart deal with that same board member, which caused the “in perpetuity” line to be added to Scottsdale’s agreement with the AG.

    The District may or may not need a centralized Community Resource Center. But making a sweetheart deal with a board member is not the way to accomplish that goal. And it will never happen on my watch if I have a way to stop it. Very truly yours, Former Scottsdale School Board member

    Christine Schild

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