Community cash and gifts help lift SUSD above state funding woes
December 6, 2017
By Niki D’Andrea
As several school districts sue the state over cuts to education funds, Scottsdale Unified School District remains one of the most well-funded districts in Arizona. But SUSD receives just a fraction of its budget from the state, with the bulk of funds coming from property taxes. And there’s another source of financial stability for SUSD: its surrounding community.
The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board recently accepted more than $41,000 in monetary donations and other gifts. SUSD officials say the gifts will provide a much-needed boost for school district programs and equipment as government funding for public education continues to dwindle.
The gifts, which were approved and accepted by the SUSD Governing Board at its November 14 meeting at Coronado High School, include $7,285.71 in Kiva PTO funds for Kiva Elementary School; three milk coolers for SUSD Nutrition Services valued at $7,500 from Patricia Johnson, Arizona Milk Producers’ director of nutrition services; $1,000 for Coronado High School from the Coronado Foundation for the Future; $2,464.46 from Open Arms Church to fund Navajo Elementary School lunch coverage and a Zeiss microscope (valued at $2,236) from Carl Zeiss Microscopy for Desert Mountain High School. The total value of monetary donations is $23,041.44. The value of other donated goods equals $16,010.16.
Scottsdale Bible Church donated $5,000 to Tonalea Elementary School. Jill Hoekstra, communications director for the church, said the church has enjoyed partnering with the school in several ways over the years, including a Christmas assembly to provide gifts for students and teachers. The monetary donation was one of many the church made to SUSD schools. “Scottsdale
Bible Church was pleased to donate funds to several SUSD schools this past year, including a $5,000 gift to Tonalea Elementary that was designated for computers and technology resources,” Hoekstra said. “This gift and the service projects we’ve completed at the school reflect our church’s desire to partner with local schools and help make a difference in the lives of kids and families in our community.”
SUSD has accepted $499,146.44 in total donations since July 1. Erin Helm, public information and marketing officer for SUSD, said such support is vital for the district to continue providing students with a top-tier education.
School funding has been a contentious issue nationwide, but perhaps especially so in Arizona, where several school districts sued the state (and won) in 1994, successfully arguing that using taxpayer-funded bonds to cover the costs of school maintenance put schools in low-income areas at a disadvantage. The settlement agreement included between $100 million and $200 million per year for building maintenance and about $200 million annually to schools for soft capital. Former Governor Jan Brewer began cutting those funds in 2009, citing the Great Recession. Cuts continued under both Brewer and current Governor Doug Ducey. School districts say they are currently getting about 15 percent of what was promised to them each year in what’s called District Additional Assistance.
In May, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit on behalf of a plaintiff group that includes the Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, Elfrida Elementary School District, Chino Valley Unified School District, Crane Elementary School District and Glendale Elementary School District, “challenging the state’s failure to adequately find public schools,” according to an ACLPI press release. The trial is expected to commence in spring 2018.
The national Center for Student Achievement ranked Arizona 49th in the U.S. in education funding this year. But Scottsdale Unified School District is one of the larger and highest-performing school districts in the state. There are 29 schools in the district (plus Scottsdale Online Learning) with approximately 2,300 students, and the district employs roughly 1,300 teachers. Research engine StartClass reports federal funding per student is higher than average in SUSD, with the district receiving $9,709 per student (compared to the average federal funding for all districts in Arizona of $8,703 per student). Niche, an education data firm, ranks SUSD in the top 10 percent of “Safest School Districts in America.”
A big part of SUSD’s success comes from community support, according to Helm. “In a time when public schools have to constantly fight for funding, the generosity of our community has become a critical component of keeping our schools performing at high levels. Cash gifts help fund everything from team uniforms and musical instruments to classroom aide salaries and library books,” Helm said. “Such gifts come from parent organizations, local businesses, churches and generous individuals. Our students, staff and schools are tremendously grateful for this community support.”