by Loyd Eskildson
The Arizona Legislature took away SUSD’s near monopoly on students living within the district when it passed the 1994 law enabling charters. Since then SUSD has lost an ever increasing number of pupils and associated funding. The total number of pupils currently lost is estimated to be as high as 12,000. Using a conservative number of 10,000 pupils funded at $8,500/each suggests that SUSD personnel and pupils are currently losing $85 million/year. That number has steadily grown.
Why did this happen? Instead of making ‘Job One = Customer Satisfaction,’ the district instead focused on simply obtaining more money from residents and the State, rebuilding/renovating facilities, and maintaining an environment of ‘Happy Talk’ at Board meetings. The primary concern of parents withdrawing their children – lack of alternatives to what many saw as inadequate discipline and achievement goals, was largely ignored/dismissed. As for the disappearing students – that was either denied or ‘rationalized’ via highly implausible excuses. Meanwhile, neighboring public school districts raided SUSD, while competing charter schools, parochial schools, and private schools steadily added capacity and filled those seats with the children of dissatisfied SUSD parents. More of these seats will be available next year, and they’re already working to fill them.
SUSD’s losses could soon create a downward spiral. Given the rationale of most parents for removing their children from SUSD, it wont take long for SUSD pupil achievement to also start trending downward, creating more incentive for even more parents to withdraw their children.
Doing nothing has not worked, nor have efforts to squelch dissent within the Board. SUSD must now take a different direction if it is to serve the community as an educational leader. That, in turn, is best accomplished by hiring a new superintendent with a demonstrated record of stemming such losses and regaining market share.
The new superintendent and Board must set aggressive goals to first stem the losses and then regain market share. Achieving those goals, in turn, will require setting aggressive goals to increase the achievement and discipline programs offered parents, regular and timely feedback of progress to the Board, citizens/parents, and personnel, and confronting reality. It will also require linking rewards to goal progress.
Unfortunately, there are few candidates with such experience within the ranks of current public school administrators. Thus, the Board will need to broaden its recruitment efforts to include candidates from charter as well as public schools. And constantly remind themselves that SUSD no longer has a near monopoly on students living within the district.