Ask the Candidate

Concerns for the future of the district addressed by SUSD board candidates

Posted 10/6/20

As schools start settling into the fall semester, deeper consideration for how schools plan to operate in the future is something at the top of a lot people’s minds.

Amidst this election …

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Ask the Candidate

Concerns for the future of the district addressed by SUSD board candidates


As schools start settling into the fall semester, deeper consideration for how schools plan to operate in the future is something at the top of a lot people’s minds.

Amidst this election season, three spots on the Scottsdale Unified School District’s governing board are open. Six candidates are left vying for those spots and with early voting opening this month, they offered some comment on some key issues.

The candidates are:

  • Kathleen Angelos
  • Julie Cieniawski
  • Lucy DiGrazia
  • Elizabeth Hart-Wells
  • Zachary Lindsay
  • Rose Smith

Students in SUSD are in the process of transitioning to an operation where students have the option to start coming back to the classrooms amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. There has recently been some concern for the ability to maintain health and safety guidelines in this situation.

Along with that, Prop 208 is also up on this year’s ballot. According to previous Independent coverage, the proposition would increase taxes for people who make over a certain income level in order to provide more funding to schools.

Leading up to the election, Independent Newsmedia is offering a Q&A series with the SUSD Governing Board candidates. Read below what the candidates had to say about these issues.

As students have started to return to classes, there have been some concerns about the health of those physically in the classrooms. How do you plan on using your position to handle problems relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the health and safety of students?

Kate Angelos

The most recent update on the CDC website reports that children from zero to 18 years of age have a 99.9% survival rate from the virus. Adults between the ages of 20 to 45 have less than 0.01% rate of dying from the virus. The basic guidelines are to wash your hands, or stay home if sick, which is basic common sense. I would direct my focus on keeping the student’s life in a positive environment to promote their learning experience.

Julie Cieniawski

The measure of student success is much more than measuring academic progress through testing in our schools. Let us not forget that student health also includes physical and emotional health. Living in a worldwide health pandemic has created much stress, required immeasurable flexibility, produced economic devastation and necessitated personal sacrifice. It has also demonstrated to our youth the sense of community and how others act in times of crisis. Our children are watching, listening, and noting the price we place on the health and safety of strangers and loved ones. Students live what they see.

If we value data for rating our school and students’ academic success, shouldn’t we value data in considering the health and safety of students? Our upper levels of leadership in our nation and state have failed to provide consistent and prudent guidance and resources. I do realize this current reality is an extremely tough situation for parents (yes, many teachers and school faculty are parents in our community too), school leadership, families, and residents to be navigating through. When it comes to me making decisions that will impact others’ health and safety, I support prudent and scientifically validated data and believe that decisions made should honor and recognize the known risks and consequences. Communicating decisions in a timely manner is also a task to value and practice.

The future governing board will have a lot of intense lifting to do as a result of the economic and social impact of COVID 19. As a governing board member, the key to smart decision making is acting out of knowledge and seeking ongoing, inclusive, and timely input.

Lucy Digrazia

There have been many contradicting reports that have caused a great deal of uncertainty regarding COVID. According to the weekly CDC report and guidelines, children between the ages of 0-18 have a 99.9% survival rate from COVID. The CDC has stated that nationwide more children have succumbed to the flu than to COVID with both numbers still very low (45 COVID deaths vs. 105 flu deaths among children nationwide between Feb. 1-Aug. 1). The CDC also reports less than 0.1% of people age 20-44 have succumbed to COVID nationwide, again a 99.9% survival rate among this age group. Many teachers fall within this age group.

Based on these facts, for the health and safety of our students and teachers, I would recommend that any elderly or vulnerable teachers be given the option to teach virtually any student that either has a vulnerable health issue, as described by the CDC, or any student that does not feel comfortable returning to in-person instruction. Other than these exceptions school should return to normal.

The demands being made by the union have nothing to do with health and safety and everything to do with financial gain and attaining political power.

Asking for more money when schools have been closed for almost nine months is absurd. Our students have already missed months of instruction. Thousands of Scottsdale parents have now found alternative means to educate their children that do not include threats of walkouts, closing schools or isolation.

It is a fact that children thrive on stability and consistency. The current state of our public school system offers neither, as there are constant changes, delays and closings. It has now become clear that the focus the public school currently has, is not on students, but on political power and financial gain.

Dr. Elizabeth Hart-Wells

SUSD rightly holds the position that the priority is promoting a safe and healthy learning environment for all SUSD students, teachers, staff and the community. In my heart I know that we, as a community, agree with this position, even if we disagree on how to implement it. We have to keep talking with each other, not at each other. This is not the time for all-or-nothing ultimatums. Proceeding forward using an approach informed by science and credible, objective data is how infectious diseases have been stopped in the past, and it is how we will stop this one.

Zachary Lindsay

The health and safety of all students, teachers, and staff are always of the utmost importance. Educators and board members are not health experts, so I would use my position on the board to ensure the district is adhering to the Department of Health’s metrics.

It is a longstanding policy for districts to follow the Department of Health’s guidance. Even though the current metrics may not be mandatory, it is best practice to leave the health decisions to the medical professionals.

I would also encourage the district to bring local health officials to the table, and review the district’s mitigation plan. This would ensure the plan stays up to date and follows all CDC and Department of Health guidance.

Rose Smith

Besides our students, we must also consider the health and safety of teachers and staff. Schools cannot open without the good health of these devoted employees. A board member cannot ensure health and safety but can approve processes that will ensure the return to school be as safe as possible. The board can approve mitigation strategies and ensure that social distancing is maintained whenever possible- such as cancellation of large group events and field trips.

We can ensure that hand washing stations are installed and supplied and that hand sanitizer is available for students and staff. We can develop a cleaning protocol to make sure surfaces are as sanitary as possible and mandate the use of masks. We can communicate to families that we want them to partner with us to help keep schools open, by monitoring students’ temperatures at home and keeping students home if they feel sick. We must also have the expectation that families are doing what they can to ensure their children are staying safe and healthy when they are away from school.

What families do, will make sure our schools remain safe and open.

Over the last few years, public education became a hot topic issue for the state culminating in the Red for Ed protest in 2018. In your opinion, what needs to be done in order to improve education for students enrolled in public schools in the future?

Kate Angelos

There are many areas needing improving in the public-school education system some of which include:

  • Curriculum content: equity and inclusion promote division among students according to their race. In addition, conditioning students to disrespect their country because of Black Lives Matter ideology of “white supremacy” is unacceptable. A.R.S. Title 15-112
  • Common Core: students cannot do simple math. High school students read at the third-grade level. This method of teaching has poor academic results.
  • Red for Ed: Governor Ducey approved a 20% pay increase for teachers over three years and teachers are still complaining about not getting an increase.

The 2020-2021 school budget included a 3.5% property tax and now Prop 208 Invest in Ed is calling for an additional surcharge tax on wealthy residents.

Where is the money going? The current budget shows over 50% of every dollar is allocated for administration. This does not include teachers, and certainly not for the benefit of the students.

Julie Cieniawski

I began my teaching career in 1986 and have seen the impact of poor education initiatives on the lives of our students and on our communities. Red for Ed was the result of a decade of statewide financial neglect of our children and families, by those elected officials who are supposed to represent us and care for our interests as constituents.

We still have not returned our public-school funding levels to the prerecession rates of 2008. Red for Ed was the beginning of organized advocacy in our communities to demonstrate value for our children and their promise of quality education. It was the action to initiate the value of families and the future of our communities. When we limit the support for our public schools, we limit human potential.

It is necessary to fully restore district additional assistance, equalize funding formulas, procurement procedures, governance, access, and accountability measures across all “public schools,” Prop 208 is the beginning of Investing in Education in Arizona. Our children have waited long enough. It is time to demonstrate the economic value of our most cherished resource, our children.

Lucy Digrazia

Our current public school system has become a hotbed of anti-American indoctrination. Comprehensive sex ed, Social Emotional Learning, Equity and Inclusion, revisionist history and Critical Race Theory are all Marxist ideologies that are now fully embedded within the American public school system.

In 2018 Red for Ed was formed from within an Arizona public school by a young activist teacher who was fully trained in the philosophy of Karl Marx. Red for Ed then proceeded to force teachers to abandon their classrooms to make unwarranted financial demands. Even after Governor Ducey met the demands for increased pay for teachers, Red for Ed still refused to return to their classrooms. Teachers who did not support Red for Ed were bullied and harassed out of their classrooms.

COVID has now resurrected the Red for Ed movement rebranding it as Invest in Ed (Prop 208), again making the same demands and threats. Red for Ed expressed no concern for students during their walkout and is now showing the same lack of concern with the current refusal to return to normal teaching schedules and again demanding what would be the biggest tax increase Arizona has known. I stand firmly against indoctrination over education and politicizing children to be used as weapons against their own freedoms and rights while simultaneously demanding taxpayers fully fund this agenda.

Dr. Elizabeth Hart-Wells

Arizona did not win the race to the bottom in per pupil spending and median teacher salary overnight. This has been a decades-long effort. I strongly support systemic change in Arizona that recalibrates education policy against the current needs and demands placed on our critical educational infrastructure.

Zachary Lindsay

The state needs to increase funding for public schools. This shouldn’t be an issue that falls along political lines. In the Arizona 2020 General Election Publicity Pamphlet, Governor Ducey himself stated, “Arizona’s K-12 education needs more money. There is little doubt about that.”

Therefore, there needs to be an increase in funding that makes education more appealing as a career option. While we have excellent teachers and staff, we as a state need to improve the teacher pipeline. Increased funding would also attract teachers that left the profession to come back. Additional teacher and student supports are also a necessity.

I say this because the number one factor that contributes to student achievement, is the quality and effectiveness of their teacher.

Rose Smith

In order to equalize the challenges of our large population of ELL and low-income families, our state education funding should actually be higher than the national average; instead, we continue to lag near the bottom of the 50 states.

Yet, we hear complaints about how we don’t rank higher in national and global assessments.

Those unrealistic expectations and the lack of legislative support on behalf of public schools should be the “hot topic”, especially when the framers of our Arizona constitution placed a high premium on funding public education.

Arizona has cut more education funding since 2009 than any other state. Our children, and our future, deserve better.

Also, for many years, the school facilities board has been underfunded and understaffed. We have the responsibility to maintain our buildings just as we do our own homes. With a huge backlog of requests facing the school facilities board, our buildings become unsafe and more difficult and expensive to maintain. It is certainly apparent today that safety precautions are essential in our buildings and must be a priority throughout the district. Implementing these items takes funding and again, Arizona places districts in a precarious position.

We cannot continue to underfund education and expect our educators and students to thrive. A healthy building environment contributes to a good learning environment.