Guest Commentary

Menzel: Scottsdale Unified in 2023

Posted 1/12/23

The beginning of a new year provides an opportunity for reflection and future-focused planning. Scottsdale Unified School District serves nearly 22,000 students at 29 physical locations and one online school. We have been serving this community since 1896 when Chaplain Winfield Scott founded the district.

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Guest Commentary

Menzel: Scottsdale Unified in 2023


The beginning of a new year provides an opportunity for reflection and future-focused planning. Scottsdale Unified School District serves nearly 22,000 students at 29 physical locations and one online school.

We have been serving this community since 1896 when Chaplain Winfield Scott founded the district. 

The past few years have included numerous challenges, not the least of which was navigating a global pandemic. However, as we head into the second semester of the 2022-23 school year, most aspects of the school experience have returned to pre-pandemic form.

It is important for all residents of Scottsdale to know about the district’s successes, as well as key, upcoming challenges that will determine the extent to which our district, and more importantly our students, thrive in 2023.

Numerous studies have documented “learning loss” associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which began taking grip of our nation in March 2020. While Scottsdale students saw a decline in state test results in the spring of 2021, the 2022 results reflected a return to pre-pandemic levels, for the most part. 

Compared with similar districts in the Valley, Scottsdale students ranked number one in five of seven grades tested in English language arts and in four of seven in mathematics. This is a reflection on the tremendous resilience and dedication of our hardworking staff and students. 

While we acknowledge the need for even greater academic gains, particularly in middle school and high school math and science, a solid foundation exists for future success.

Scottsdale students regularly find state and national academic success with Arizona Seals of Biliteracy and Arts Proficiency, National Merit Scholarships and U.S. Presidential Scholarships. Our student-athletes compete on state championship baseball, football, golf, swim and dive, tennis and volleyball teams.

Yavapai Elementary went from a D school letter grade in 2020 to an A in 2022, the most recent year of State Board of Education-issued school report cards.

For the first time since the state started issuing school letter grades, all nine of our Title I schools received either an A or a B. This represents a clear and focused approach on meeting the needs of our students to help them continue to achieve their full potential.

Last November, Scottsdale voters approved the District Additional Assistance (also known as capital) override. This will provide much-needed funding over the course of the next seven years to support:

  • curriculum materials and school technology
  • school furniture, fixtures and equipment
  • fine arts, athletics and library equipment and materials
  • playground equipment and facilities

As we start the new year, there are some areas of concern that have the potential to impact our forward progress. These include, but are not limited to:

· The Aggregate Expenditure Limit

A provision in the Arizona Constitution that was adopted in 1980 and caps how much a school district can spend each fiscal year, it relies on an outdated formula that is based on attendance and inflation rates.

Unless the state legislature acts quickly — within the next few weeks — to override the AEL, public schools across the state will have to cut $1.38 billion this spring. 

For SUSD, that equates to $30,196.497. That represents what it takes to operate our schools and the district for 45 school days. This is money the state has already approved and allocated, yet won’t allow public school districts to spend without a two-thirds majority vote in the House and Senate.

We hope this issue will be among the first tackled by the new legislature that convened this week.

· State budget process. 

The House and Senate have a number of new members, and for the first time in 14 years, Arizona has a Democrat governor. The legislative session will have many competing priorities, and Governor Hobbs made it clear in her State of the State address that education is at the top of the list. 

There is a potential to find common ground and take action to ensure high-quality education for all students in Arizona, but there is a risk that partisan posturing could slow the budget process down and leaves districts in a position where funding for next year is uncertain.

· Recruiting and retaining the best. 

SUSD has long been a destination school district, attracting families and employees from all around the Valley.

However, the national teacher shortage is making attracting and retaining talented teachers progressively more difficult, and not just in our district, particularly in specialty areas such as special education, math and science. 

District leadership is working diligently and creatively to find ways to grow our pipeline and improve upon our supportive and inclusive culture. We look to the legislature to elevate teacher recruitment and retention as a top priority, as well.

Finally, the governing board welcomes two new members this month. The primary role of the governing board is to set policy and approve the district’s budget.

Its decisions and discourse shape the path for what happens across our campuses as we continue to focus on providing our students with world-class, future-focused learning opportunities. 

Given that the commitment of our staff, governing board and community is clearly focused on student success, I am hopeful for the future.

Together, we can ensure that Scottsdale Unified School District builds on its legacy of success and continues to enhance the quality of life in our valued community. 

Happy New Year!