Times are changing for the Scottsdale Unified School District. With two new members joining the governing board in January, gone are the days of predictable 5-0 votes approving Superintendent Scott Menzel’s requests.
At a recent board meeting, the newest board members, Amy Carney and Vice President Carine Werner, raised concerns that exposed excess spending and, for some items, resulted in the board tabling decisions, including adding additional human resources support staff, spending $100,000 on a district communication system, renewing the contract for a controversial app that unlawfully makes sexual education available to 6-year-olds, and renewing the $500,000 contract for a transportation company with pending parent complaints. Also challenged was the $400,000 expense to hold an early election for M&O funds and $50,000 for a council membership for Menzel.
During a discussion regarding a new Human Resources Technical Analyst position, Werner stated: “I’m challenged by this because at $81,000 dollars for a new position in HR, when we have teachers who are struggling to get aids. We have employees who are severely underpaid.” Werner noted that the funds were from the M&O, and thus: “We need to redirect this money to our teachers.”
Board member Julie Cieniawski dissented, stating: “Although it’s a noble gesture to say we have employees that are underpaid, that is a fact, but we also chose to invest in an audit with the City of Scottsdale. I think to turn a blind eye to the recommendations of an audit would be a huge waste of money and I do not support that.”
Werner insisted that to reduce the 19.7% staff turnover, the district needed to listen to employees, not hire more administration. “It’s very important that we take care of our staff so they will stay. I want us to focus on our teachers and the staff that supports our teachers before we hire more administrators.” she reiterated.
Ultimately, the issue was tabled for further discussion. No mention was made of the impact on staff retention due to several SUSD staff being placed on administrative leave during the 2022-2023 school year.
Next up, Werner made a motion to table the action item to renew a $100,000 contract for K-12 Insights which supplies a communication tool called Let’s Talk. “It’s $100,000 and we don’t have any data on if it’s a good use of funds or not and it appears to be very limited in its being used right now. We need to know if it’s effective,” said Werner. Menzel stated that he would present an overview of the product at an upcoming meeting so that “the community has the benefit of seeing that data as well.”
Werner also raised concerns about Capstone and HopSkipDrive. Capstone is the publisher of PebbleGo, a controversial app that promotes sexual education and gender identity content to elementary school children in violation of Arizona law. HopSkipDrive is a transportation company with active parent complaints regarding the treatment of students. “I’d like to table this to have a discussion. This is a half a million-dollar contract to HopSkipDrive and there are some issues going on with HopSkipDrive and it’s something that needs to be discussed as a board to ensure it’s safe for our kids,” said Werner.
Scottsdale Unites for Educational Integrity has issued a public call to action on social media regarding Capstone and PebbleGo:
This is Capstone, publisher of PebbleGo. This company is openly committed to promoting the idea that grade school children can change their gender.
Email the @ScottsdaleUSDgoverning board and tell them to cancel the Capstone contract – firstname.lastname@example.org
Carney questioned a $50,000 expense to renew a 5-year agreement for Menzel to continue membership in the Greater Phoenix Educational Management Council. “We’re being asked to approve a 5-year agreement at a minimum of cost of over $50,400 dollars tonight and one of the things that the educational management council says is that they engage in advocacy to improve and influence educational legislative policy. I don’t believe this renewal is really necessary now that Dr. Menzel recently hired a lobbyist for SUSD. I really would like to see our board focus on less spending for the adults and for the administration and look for ways that we can move more M&O dollars to the classroom and student learning.” Menzel stated that SUSD is one of 60 districts that are members and that he believes the return on investment is money well spent. No tangible outcomes from involvement in the council were presented. The motion to renew the $50,000 contract passed 3-2, with Werner and Carney dissenting.
Carney also questioned the necessity to fund a special M&O election in November 2023 when the item could be placed on the regular election ballot in 2024 for a fraction of the cost. “I am in absolute support of the (maintenance and operations) override but I cannot support this wasteful spending doing a special election for this early in November,” Carney said. “I’m confident we can band together and educate the community over this next year and champion this in 2024,” she said. “It’s nearly $300,000 more to do it this year and that’s money we can use this year to pay so many people. We can get some full-time security officers at our elementary campuses … we could pay our library resource specialists more for all they’ve taken on with (information technology). Our special ed para (educators). I can go on and on with what we could fund with nearly $300,000.”
SUSD Chief Financial Officer Shannon Crosier stated that the special election would cost .21% to .22% of the M&O budget. The ask to fund the M&O special election passed with a 4-1 vote.
School boards are responsible for ensuring the fiscal responsibility of district administration spending. Carney and Werner showed that they take this responsibility seriously and are willing to ask tough questions about spending requests submitted to the board by Dr. Menzel. The new board members demonstrated that they are not part of the historical rubber stamp vote on wish list spending, electing instead to focus funds in the classrooms.
Menzel and Cienawski are political zealots hellbent on pushing their woke ideals on others. They don’t care about our kids well being, they just care about indoctrinating our kids.