SUSD: A Charter School for Tonalea?

Let me state emphatically that I’m not a big fan of the way the charter school model has been implemented in Arizona, and the havoc that implementation has wreaked upon our public schools.

Having taxpayer-owned real estate and infrastructure in-place is one of the last competitive advantages that our taxpayer-owned public school districts have over charter schools; which have (unfortunately, due to mismanagement by district administration) attracted thousands of students away. Since the state funding formula is based on per-student enrollment, that has further hurt the already short-funded (by the state) public school system. It becomes a vicious cycle spiraling downward ever faster.

And once we give up a neighborhood public school campus to another use (be it a charter school, a “resource center,” or, for example, a Scottsdale Healthcare affiliate), it’s damned hard to get it back to the use for which the taxpayers purchased it. And if we sell it or trade it away, we’ll never get it back.

Having said all that, I grudgingly admit that a charter school would be a better use of an SUSD school campus than having it be occupied by a non-school use that’s being forced out of another, more valuable parcel of land slated for highly-profitable redevelopment.

The last-ditch effort this morning by Virginia Korte to vilify the Tonalea neighbors who object to non-school re-purposing of the Tonalea campus–and more importantly, the under-handed secrecy with which it was proceeding–is classic ‘blame the victim’ rhetoric.

I’ve copied Korte’s anonymous “Voice of Scottsdale” editorial below, to preserve it for posterity and what I hope will be her unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Scottsdale in a few years.

In her column, she makes it clear that she’s anti-charter, which is sure to land her on the wrong side of the so-called “Republican” establishment in Scottsdale. I’ve been there myself (for different reasons), and it isn’t fun. The wild-eyed mumu militia has a policy of “Ready-Fire-Aim” that has defeated many a candidate of greater integrity than Korte.

For all her victim-bashing, Korte just doesn’t get the message: The neighborhood rightfully wants to have a neighborhood school, for which they all paid taxes–some of them for DECADES, and for which their properties (through the SUSD portion of our property taxes) are encumbered in perpetuity. That deal didn’t include busing their kids to some other neighborhood.

In closing, a couple of observations:

1. By including John Greco’s well-written letter-to-the-editor, Korte effectively shoots down her entire train of attempted logic.

2. There’s a big difference between Korte hiding behind an this “Voice of Scottsdale” effort, and the anonymous postings of the ROSS group. Korte is a politician (not unlike John Huppenthal) who aspires to personal political gain. Many of the folks who have contributed to ROSS are working folk. Some have kids in SUSD schools, and probably some work for the District. They have plenty to fear from folks like Korte, who have proven themselves to be vindictive against their political enemies.

I hope I have time to go to the board meeting this morning at 11 am at the SUSD Education Center. If so, I look forward to seeing you there.

Here’s Korte’s column:

Neighbors Help Keep Door Open To Make Tonalea Charter School

When we left off, readers learned that the neighborhood surrounding the closed Tonalea Elementary School had gotten what they asked for: No Scottsdale Unified School District Resource Center.

And one group is tickled pink about it.

Respect Our Scottsdale Students (ROSS) is a group of education activists whose mission is murky. It’s hard to determine if ROSS is actually an education watchdog or just on a witch hunt to unseat Superintendent David Peterson. Or maybe a little bit of both.

Whatever the case … the group recently posted this bizarre statement on their Face Book page: “Let’s be honest – and candid. We’re in a Love/Hate relationship with the District. We’re the abused partner in the relationship. But part of the reason we are angry is that our abusive partner fails to serve our needs for reasons not completely within its control. Let there be no mistake. We are abused.”

This sounds like a cry for help.

Abused or not, the people at ROSS haven’t just inserted themselves into the Tonalea turmoil, they’ve become one of the primary voices in the vitriol.

“If SUSD cannot operate a school on that property successfully, then lease it to a Charter or Private school,” the group recently posted. “Many of them are begging for space in Scottsdale. It is more than a bit disingenuous to try to shove something into Tonalea just to block other schools from using the property. MAKE TONALEA A SCHOOL!”

That statement is revealing. In fact some are saying it confirms that ROSS is an advocacy organization for Charter Schools, and, as such, is an adversary of public schools. Hence, their harsh criticism of virtually every decision made by SUSD and each move by Superintendent Peterson.

Earlier this week, ROSS pleaded with people to “Send all parents the link to every Charter (school) in Scottsdale so we can get out of this asylum asap.”

ROSS has issues … and, sadly, not just ones about education.

The group, actually more like a cult, certainly has no issue with what Governor Doug Ducey wants to do to our public education system. In his first State of the State address, the new governor said he wants to create the “Arizona Public School Achievement District” through which Charter Schools could apply to use unoccupied classrooms in our public schools. That could easily mean Tonalea.

Furthermore, Governor Ducey proposes allowing the state to broker and guarantee construction loans for Charter Schools. That move would save Charter Schools millions of dollars in loans, which, he says, could then be invested in private school classrooms.

That’s the principal reason why ROSS is so active in assuring nothing is done with Tonalea Elementary School other than keeping it a school – especially if that means converting it into a Charter School.

ROSS has a political crush on SUSD Board member Pam Kirby, who has turned into the organization’s go-to gal on the Governing Board. Kirby, the only member of the Board who was reluctant to support the successful override campaign last fall, is calling for a full-scale investigation into the former agreement between SUSD and past Board member Denny Brown to turn Tonalea into a Resource Center. That agreement was dissolved last week.

“The integrity and credibility of SUSD leadership is being questioned and an independent investigation might possibly be the only way to rebuild trust and confidence in SUSD,” Kirby said.

A meeting of the Board to consider Kirby’s request will take place at 11 AM today [Friday 23 January] at the SUSD Education Center.

Meanwhile … the school sits empty, a former shell of itself. No more laughter or life. Only the quiet decay of a once vibrant place now caught in the middle of an unfortunate political battle.

Bite Me!

The following is an email from John Greco who is a resident of the Coronado Neighborhood in Southern Scottsdale. He wrote to us following the column earlier this week entitled,

Tonalea Neighbors Get What They Asked For.”

“An interesting perspective that fails to take into account legitimate neighborhood concerns and the real problems. Neighborhoods are concerned with their quality of life, property values, safety, etc, and that is a good thing. That is a particularly good thing when older neighborhoods are involved. Your editorial piece seems to indicate both a lack of communication and a lack of involvement regarding the neighborhood and SUSD regarding what to do with Tonalea School. A more productive, albeit also critical approach, would have been for you to identify those problems and offer solutions.

“If SUSD and the Tonalea neighborhood had better communications early on, perhaps all of the ensuing drama and upsetment (sic) that you describe, and the upsetment (sic) that still probably exists, could possibly have been avoided. How to avoid such unnecessary drama and hard feelings would have made for a more
productive editorial.”

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3 Comments

  1. As a neighbor to the Tonalea School at 68th Street and Oak, I am finding it hard to not think that logic and principals are foreign concepts to many groups. First I get labeled a “constant critic” by the Voice Of Scottsdale. This is apparently for not clapping like a trained seal at the Scottsdale school districts presentations over time, I can’t say why I get that label, as they don’t respond to my emails. Then I hear from today’s informational session that Dr. Peterson provides a timeline of events that could have been clarified by the presence of Denny Brown. Dr. Peterson thought it best to keep Mr. Brown away from the meeting. So discuss the lease and not have the person who signed it present? What sort of thinking is that? So after more tap dancing on landmines by the district, it was very apparent that SUSD administration was at best, telling half-truths to the public.

    So after hearing Pam Kirby and Barbara Perleberg trying to get the truth and a series of events clarified, we have the rest of the school board trying to dismiss the entire issue as not being cost effective or worthwhile. I guess if they lived in the neighborhood they would care and at least try to give the impression of doing what they were elected for. Then to top off this joyful occasion of half-truths, more unanswered questions, and just flat out issues being verified, Dr. Peterson insults the community for ‘rallying’ around the resource center issue. I guess it is wrong now for the public to gather together and ask for answers and oppose what we don’t want.

    So what does this have to do with ROSS or a charter school? Some of neighbors would not have an issue with a charter school, and I am certain some neighbors know off or may still comment on ROSS. I do, and that is OK. It is a forum for discussion and has been more open to discussion than SUSD ever has been.

    Tonalea needs to be an educational resource for the community. Does that mean a charter or private, should take the space? Maybe. Do we want a public school back, yes, BUT it needs better educational programs and yes partnerships, to bring more students back to the school.

    This fool’s errand that VOS is on works against Virginia Korte. You don’t get pubic confidence or support by attacking that same public you want support or votes from. Many neighbors are quite suspicious of Virginia Korte’s designs for the land that Tonalea occupies. Are those conspiracy theories? Maybe, but when VOS attacks, it leads some to wonder why. Really, VOS if you read this, how about someone takes a second and emails me back?

    Education is lacking in our neighborhood. Tonalea was closed for a variety of reasons, yet if you listen to this series of district sponsored community events, Tonalea is just the first of MANY school closures. Does that get anyone’s attention? Has anyone done the research on what the district puts out to the public? So you can love or hate a charter, but understand this, SUSD is either going to shut down a whole series of schools OR ask the voters for a bond to rebuild them.

    This was confirmed on the Tonalea school tour today. It was like pulling teeth, but the words said today only make me and many others wonder exactly what is happening in SUSD. We see a board still divided, issues being swept under the rug, more dancing around issues and not solving them, less public trust, and to top it off, attacking the public while asking them for bond money.

    Well I guess that my title as constant critic will continue to thrive in this environment. People think that city government is creative, ha! The Scottsdale public schools want to top that, too bad one of the victims is education. Just remember to think of the children when the bond comes forward, right?

  2. Dr. Strangedale–do we really want a Mayor that disregards the needs of the neighborhood and marginalizes the people who live there in such a blatant way? If this is the way Ms. Korte treats the Tonalea neighborhood, what would she be willing to do to mine if the price were right?

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