Ask the candidate

Scottsdale school board candidates talk district change

Posted 9/17/20

This November, Scottsdale Unified School District voters will select three new Governing Board members to begin terms in January 2021.

Six candidates are running for the three open seats. …

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe.

For $5.99, less than 20 cents a day, subscribers will receive unlimited access to the website, including access to our Daily Independent e-edition, which features Arizona-specific journalism and items you can’t find in our community print products, such as weather reports, comics, crossword puzzles, advice columns and so much more six days a week.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Sincerely,
Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor
Ask the candidate

Scottsdale school board candidates talk district change

Posted

This November, Scottsdale Unified School District voters will select three new Governing Board members to begin terms in January 2021.

Six candidates are running for the three open seats. Governing Board President Allyson Beckham and board members Barbara Perleberg and Sandy Kravetz are not seeking re-election.

The candidates are:

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

SUSD covers portions of Scottsdale, the Town of Paradise Valley and parts of Phoenix.

Leading up to the Nov. 3 general election, the Independent is asking the school board candidates their thoughts on school choice, the changing Governing Board and areas for improvement within the school district.

Read below to see what they have to say.

Kathleen Angelos

•Do you support school choice?

Since the parents have total responsibility for their children’s education and what they are being taught, I also believe they have the right to choose the school their children should attend. Teachers, school governing boards and unions do not have this authority. So, yes, I am 100% in favor of school choice.

•With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

With three-fifths of the school board being replaced in November, the impact would be as different, and the adjustment period as rough or as smooth as the new members’ goals over the next four years.

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

SUSD needs improvement in providing ample notice between parents, teachers and the school board prior to the board approving curriculum, committees and budgets. Closed-door, special sessions should not be the normal practice.

Budget transparency is a must. In 2018, Gov. Ducey approved 20% teacher pay increase over three years. In January 2020, the school board passed the 2020-21 school year budget, which includes 3.5% tax increase. So why is it necessary for an initiative (Invest in Ed) that would mandate an additional 3.5% surcharge tax to fund schools? Where is the money? I would require the school board to provide a budget report every month — accountability.

Julie Cieniawski

•Do you support school choice?

I grew up and began my teaching career in the great state of Minnesota, a leader in education choice initiatives. So yes, I support school choice, of which public schools are one option. Every parent should have a properly funded district public school in their own neighborhood as one such choice. When we properly fund our district public schools and encourage provisions for future forward schools for all children (early childhood programs, early vocational experiences and training opportunities, community schools, etc.) we improve parents’ abilities to choose.

Fairness, however, does require that all students attending public schools be provided a quality education and that the same rules apply to all public schools, whether they are district public schools or charter schools. The current design does not create an equal playing field for district schools and charter schools and results in taxpayer money being used to support for-profit interests. Parents should be able to choose between two equally funded and similarly governed public schools.

•With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

The results of this election will determine the direction of the SUSD Governing Board and will affect all those it serves. We need to know our past in order to create our future. I know systemic change is necessary and takes time, yet we haven’t a moment to lose. The decisions made by the SUSD Governing Board will ultimately impact a child’s entire educational existence from K-12, providing evidence that it is more important than ever that we focus on electing committed, caring and competent Scottsdale public school advocates for all children.

We need to stop the revolving door of programs and faculty, and address the reasons families leave SUSD schools. Our focus should be honoring the best interests of every child, providing the best curricula, and supporting the best professionals, staff and administrators. I will continue to fight for this, so SUSD becomes the premier school district the community deserves.

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

I would like to see Scottsdale Unified School District restore trust with all stakeholders and provide deliberate, timely and intentional communication throughout our community. The Governing Board should also demonstrate respect for students, parents, faculty, staff and taxpayers through consistent actions. If evolving decisions are really student-focused, SUSD must be more intentional with including all these interested groups in the decision-making process. Inclusion and communication are necessary areas on which to focus to move the District forward.

Lucy DiGrazia

•Do you support school choice?

Yes I fully support school choice. Parents are and should always be the final decision makers for their children. Parents should always be able to choose how and where their children are educated.

•With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

With the majority of the board vacant, this is an important election. Who is elected to the board could be the determining factor in whether or not curricula such as Comprensive Sexual Education and Black Lives Matter inc. will be forced upon our children. The board can determine to focus on things such as Social Emotional Learning over academics and implement politically charged programs such as the equity and inclusion initiative, which was passed in June without parental knowledge or consent while schools were in fact, closed. If I am elected, I will insist on parental inclusion and involvement so families are never blindsided.

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

One area I would improve is to return to and adhere to the Arizona Revised Statute Title 15-112, which states in subsection A that a school district shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:

  1. Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government
  2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
  3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group
  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

Another area I will focus on is the implementation of curriculum. I believe parents and teachers should have a strong voice in choosing curriculum. I do not believe teachers unions should ever have any weight or influence over curriculum. I will always prioritize student academic achievement.

Elizabeth Hart-Wells

•Do you support school choice?

Let’s unpack the term ‘school choice’ because there is the plain meaning, and then there is the political meaning. They don’t reconcile. The plain meaning of the term is fine because it’s benign; people should have the right to make choices about their life and life decisions. The political meaning of the term is neither benign nor fine.

•With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

The obvious impact to the governing board and the community is that these three seats represent a majority bloc on the board. Informed individual analysis of candidates is critical to seat a new board that provides healthy and responsible oversight galvanized around its first and greatest priority — the educational welfare of all SUSD students

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

Putting the unified back into Scottsdale Unified School District. My goal is to help build and rebuild relationships between and among the district and its community support network. Gross disparities exist, and they need to be actively addressed. When I joined the Purdue Research Foundation, the relationships between the office I was hired to run and the faculty, students, administrators, business community, community leaders and policy makers spanned the spectrum of healthy to unhealthy to, in some cases, hostile, and, in others, nonexistent.

I remained resolved to repair, rebuild and strengthen existing relationships and, importantly, build new ones. And, I did it. I forged new relationships that yielded new academic opportunities for students. I helped establish multi-party consortia founded on common goals and was part of the negotiating teams to formalize the operational infrastructures to realize those goals. SUSD has partnerships, and they are largely site-specific. I know this because my kids have benefited from those site-specific experiences. Let’s build on that foundation and bring value to all our students through synergistic partnerships with the local community; my unique skill set can increase the value to students compared to the current collaborations the district has. It’s what I’ve spent most of my career doing for public education institutions, and now I want to bring that value to all SUSD students.

Zachary Lindsay

•Do you support school choice?

I do support school choice, but with some important caveats. School choice has been such an important tool for many parents when deciding where to send their children to school. Just in Scottsdale Unified, one can see the importance of school choice (open enrollment).

Last school year for example, 45% of SUSD’s total enrollment was from some form of school choice. Scottsdale Unified has also become a destination district for many families who live outside the district’s boundaries. Just over 20% of the district’s enrollment last year came from outside district boundaries.

While school choice offers many positives for families, it also has drawbacks. Increased competition, primarily in the form of charter schools, can be seen by many to be a good thing. I would argue there is a fine line between competition based on need, and too much competition caused by blanket new school approvals. I would like the state to establish a way to determine a need, before approving any additional competition to enter Scottsdale. Too much competition only harms district schools and existing charters alike, and the kids are the ones who suffer as a result.

I would also like to see all charter schools in Scottsdale Unified boundaries providing equal opportunities for all children to attend school. This would be done by providing free bus transportation, limiting parent donations, participating in the national lunch program (free and reduced lunch), and putting a focus on [special education] students.

Only then, can we have school choice that truly benefits all in Scottsdale.

• With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

While every governing board election is important, I would argue this upcoming election is of added significance. This governing board election has the potential to shape the future of our district with a new majority.

The current governing board hired Dr. Menzel as the new superintendent earlier this year. It is vital that he be afforded the opportunity to set his vision for the district and implement that vision. This can only be done with a supportive board majority that doesn’t overstep its authority.

Disruption and chaos would have a negative affect on our district, and it is imperative we move past those issues. We have the opportunity to have a board that works collectively, to set policy that benefits all kids.

It is important that no members of our board have hidden agendas and focus solely on doing right by all students, teachers, staff.

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

Scottsdale Unified is such a special place to so many in our community, my family included. It is much more than just a school district, it is a source of pride within our community.

There are many areas I would like to see SUSD improve. Some of these are increased communication and collaboration between the district and stakeholders, financial transparency, and equity, inclusion, and diversity.

Increased communication and collaboration is something that has been lacking in SUSD for a while now. It has created distrust between the various stakeholders and the district. I would love to see an emphasis placed on improving communication and collaboration between the district and teachers and staff.

The district’s talented teachers and staff need to feel like they have a voice in district decisions, and feel valued and respected. Too often decisions are made in the district with very little teacher and staff input.

Increased communication and collaboration will help retain our teachers and staff, as well as attract others to our district.

Financial transparency has been an ongoing issue for a while now. It’s important the district is open and honest with how funding is spent. The district is far behind its peer districts as it pertains to financial transparency. This also creates distrust between the various stakeholders and the district.
One such solution would be to hire an independent auditor, who would be able to do a thorough review of the district’s spending practices and organizational structure. This would ensure the district is spending its funding adequately, and promote transparency.

Equity, inclusion, and diversity are extremely important. Schools should be a place where all children, staff, and families feel welcomed, valued and accepted. It is also imperative that all kids get the necessary supports and tools needed to be successful.

I applaud the district for forming a committee to address these important topics. It is important that progress is made in these areas, and its my hope the committee meets more frequently going forward. Action speaks louder than words.

I also am encouraged to see equity, diversity, and inclusion added to the superintendent’s goals for the next year. I look forward to seeing how Dr. Menzel meets these goals, and how the district makes important progress in these areas. I truly believe SUSD can be at the forefront of making progress in these very important areas.

Rose Smith

•Do you support school choice?

Arizona is an open enrollment state that embraces school choice. For SUSD, that means that any student may apply to any of our SUSD schools, based on available classroom space (A.R.S. § 15-816.01). Additionally, SUSD’s online school, Scottsdale Online Learning is an option for students not only within SUSD, but also statewide for those students who value the connection to SUSD and an SUSD SOL Diploma. SUSD offers a full menu of “choice” under our own umbrella of district schools: IB, AP, Foreign Language Immersion, Traditional, STEM and other amazing CTE (career/technical education) options. SUSD educates the “whole child” with exposure to the arts, athletics, special education, extra-curricular activities as well as social/emotional support for all students. SUSD is truly a “choice” destination for Arizona students.

•With three new people getting elected to the Governing Board in November, this is an important election for SUSD. How can having so many seats up for election impact the Governing Board?

Despite some poor decisions made by a previous superintendent and board, SUSD continues to thrive, thanks to its strong community of families, administrators, educators, and support professionals. All are involved in ensuring that our mission remain constant: providing the best education for all of the students that we serve. As demonstrated by our two most recently elected board members, we have shown an ability to adjust and work together as we strive to do what is right for students now and into the future.

A school board position is not a platform to advance a personal agenda. It is a role that provides oversight to the district, ensuring that our students are given the best educational opportunities we can provide. The school board is also required to provide good stewardship of public funds. Voters should take the time to research candidates: read the ballot pamphlet, contact the candidates, access candidate websites, speak to parents and educators currently involved in SUSD schools, and then make an informed decision about who will fulfill the role most effectively.

•Where does SUSD need improvement? And, how would you like to see it changed?

I feel that SUSD may be selling itself short; we provide many opportunities for our students and must amplify those to the community. Better communication and marketing would educate current and potential parents about all of the programs and amenities that SUSD has to offer our students. We have the highest percentage of National Board Certified teachers in the state. Our students realize millions of dollars each year in scholarships.

Additionally, SUSD enjoys a positive relationship with local businesses and professional organizations that offer partnership opportunities to further enhance general education. SUSD is prepared to guide all students toward successful adulthood, through higher education, technical or service careers, wherever their passion and interests may lie. Other schools and districts may have better marketing, but they are not better than us. I hope to be a positive ambassador for Scottsdale Unified School District.

Comments