So hard. So full of doubt and remorse. 38x more guilt-ridden, confidence uninspiring, Here it is, another ride in the school Board chaos:
My Summary from Elementary Master Plan Community Meeting at Cheyenne 1-29
The meeting was presented by the staff of the architectural firm the District hired to assess the usage and condition of its elementary schools. It was not presented by District staff. The architectural firm’s reps went through each school and listed: the year it was built, % utilization of physical space, # of kids currently enrolled, projections for enrollment for 3 and 5 years out. They laid out a plan to rebuild and refurbish each building for $150 million dollars, and asked the crowd to complete a simple survey on if they would like the District to 1) consolidate, 2) rebuild, or 3) do nothing.
The Arch.Firm’s reps reviewed each school. But, within minutes, one person commented that the numbers used for enrollment were very wrong, and that the District’s own numbers on enrollment from Fall 2014 were lower. Those current numbers are reflected here:
and also here:
BTW, audio for the whole meeting can be found here.
The Reps from the Architecture firm wavered here, stammered and sweated, and stated that these were the numbers they were given from the District. Their numbers, from the District, were more outdated than those published in the AZ Republic. The presentation went on, and soon I questioned their enrollment projections. I asked if those projections included recent enrollment trends, affects of Charters opening in the areas, and Gov. Ducey’s plan to make public school lease excess space to Charters. The Arch.Firm folks said that the projections were strictly demographic with no consideration for business analysis.
The meeting turned to Q&A, with visible frustration being expressed in the crowd for the inaccurate and 1-dimensional presentation from the Arch.Firm’s reps One woman commented that its embarrassing for the District to not own the presentation, to let it go out with so many blatant errors, and to allow such an important topic to be managed by a contractor with a limited context for the District’s challenges. Meanwhile, Superintendent David Peterson stood in back and did not say a word. It wasn’t a full room, there were about 50 people total… how can you as a leader let an employee take the bullets for you like this?
I could not help but reflect on the presentation I attended the night before at Cactus&Scottsdale roads, for a new k-4 that the Basis Charters were opening. It was presented by Basis’ CEO, and had several hundred people beating down the doors for 150 spots next year in the unused Sunday School rooms of a Church.
Many more questions and comments, the major themes being:
1. Why are you even proposing a $150M bond for buildings when you are losing enrollment, and when the overall demographic trend that the Arch.Firm announced was 5-10% fewer children in Scottsdale in the coming years?
2. Many comments from Cheyenne parents about how are other schools losing enrollment when Cheyenne has a waitlist? Why dont they copy that model, or build a magnet school?
3. What are you doing to put money into the classroom, not the buildings, so that our education is as good as the local Charters? So many people who had opportunity and means to attend Charters expressed their belief in public schools. This very morning I attended a tour of Great Hearts Archway. Its a very tight, low-frills facility. It has a lot going for it, but also has its cons. Today I also received an email about the Great Hearts lottery and waitlist. There are 10,000 people in the Valley waiting for 2,000 spots at Great Hearts schools, despite most of us loving our public schools. There was so much expression of anger over the District’s disconnect.
I commented that the entire analysis and rebuild option is premised on a neighborhood school. It was ironic given that the meeting was in Cheyenne, which is an open enrollment school and must be thought of as a regional or ‘mega-neighborhood’ school. While we all want an awesome neighborhood school, its just not the fact anymore. In the last month I visited 4 Charter schools. Education is the most important thing to me, but followed closely by community, continuity, and letting my girls enjoy their childhood. Once you get in the car, 2 miles vs 5 miles is meaningless. If we attend Redfield or Copper Ridge, I will be ok with that as long as the education and options comparable to a Charter are there. I also commented on how the District should not base building projections on changes occurring outside of the District, that the mission is to the families of Scottsdale and not to empire building.
More comments were made about frustrations over this meeting not addressing consolidation and the economic realities of the District. One person commented that for every 6 kids that leave SUSD, they must fire a teacher. Another mentioned the example of Yavapai elementary, which was rebuilt in 2011 and still only has 63% enrollment. ROSS posted number today for the fixed costs (Admin, District staff, facilities upkeep, bussing) of running a school, and how teacher\student ratios only reach acceptable levels as the school approaches 80% enrollment — facts like this were also not addressed at all. People said many times that there is no chance a bond for rebuilding the schools would pass.
I shared these thoughts with Beckie, who is very into her kids’ education but not as up on the District politics like I am. She is a PhD in Economics, and leads the Pricing Department for a large firm in the Valley. You could comfortably call my wife an expert in consumer-side supply and demand. Her immediate comments were:
1. WTF? WTFF?
2. Peterson is basing his strategy on something his customers don’t want and the business trends don’t support.
3. He is not replicating the model of his one school that is oversubscribed (Cheyenne).
4. He utterly refuses to acknowledge that charter after charter is expanding in his market. Basis, Great Hearts, and Arts Academy of Scottsdale are all increasing their seats next year largely at the expense of SUSD. We have attended all their tours and seen this all first-hand.
Peterson sat in the back of the room and didn’t say a word, while people he hired got thrown to the lions and his customers fumed repeatedly that “The District doesn’t get what we want”. I met with Peterson 1-on-1 in December. He was very gracious in giving me some time and very nice to speak with, but he was a complete uninspiration when he laid out his plans to rebuild the District. He anti-sold me. Loss of faith in the leadership is the reason why my family stepped up its pace to get on waiting lists, as much as we really really really want to stay at SUSD. The teachers, communities and schools have so much strength and potential, but they depend on strong finances which the current central administration will not, can not, deliver.