Log in


Keck: I don’t see that this override is financially necessary


I recently read the opinions encouraging a yes vote on the upcoming SUSD M&O override. Nearly every letter said, “This will maintain class sizes; full-day kindergarten; support music, arts, athletics; professional development; etc.”

Two questions. 1) Do these things support the district’s #1 purpose, to graduate students with the academic skills needed to succeed in their post-secondary path? And, if so, 2) Is this override required to maintain these things? I proffer the answer to both questions is no.

Numerous large-scale studies have shown that many of the elements being promoted in this override (teacher pay, class size, professional development, etc.) are proven not to be the most critical determinants of academic success. It seems counterintuitive, but those are the facts. The most important factor is the quality of the teacher. And teacher quality has generally been found not to be correlated with pay or credentials. There are plenty of examples of very successful schools – even in the most under-resourced neighborhoods – that pay their teachers less, have larger class sizes, etc. yet produce better academic results than SUSD. 

What are SUSD’s academic results? Though SUSD touts its graduation rate of 94%, 36% of 11th grade students weren’t at grade level in English and 44% weren’t at grade level in math as of June 2022 (the last year data is available). More than a third of students aren’t at grade level, yet they’re graduated anyway. These averages are for all SUSD students; performance for African-American and Hispanic students (27% of total) is substantially lower. Roughly 60% of these 11th grade students aren’t at grade level in English and roughly 70% aren’t in math. But they’re graduated.

Comparing SUSD to state or national results is absurd. The state average for proficiency in English was 40% and 33% for math. Should SUSD be proud of being better than this? National averages are equally dismal because they include the large urban districts of New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, L.A., etc. 

So, what are SUSD’s academic goals? The board recently published its Top 10 priorities. Academic achievement was third; school safety was ninth. The superintendent gets a bonus if he improves third grade English to 68% (three points), eighth grade math to 53% (three points), and 11th grade ACT to 63% (two points). 

At approximately $22 million, the override represents roughly 5% of the district’s 2023-2024 budget. I find it hard to believe that management can’t find 5% of overhead that could be eliminated out of a $460 million budget. Cut a mere 5% from current spending and all of these things can be maintained; there’s no need for more money.

People think if you don’t support giving more money to the schools every time they ask for it, that makes you a “school hater.” That’s a false and demeaning characterization. I wholeheartedly support our public school system; I am passionate about providing the best education we possibly can to all our Scottsdale youth. I spend an enormous amount of my personal time working to this end. I just don’t see that this override is financially necessary, nor that it impacts the most important factor(s) needed to achieve the most pressing goal – improving academics.