Education coalition meets to discuss challenges - East Valley Tribune: Chandler

Education coalition meets to discuss challenges

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Posted: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 1:44 pm

As Gangplank co-founder Derek Neighbors looks at the future of his nonprofit business incubator, a key concern is: Can the Valley’s school systems produce enough creative entrepreneurs and the talent pool to staff their businesses?

If not, then small firms will go where they can find the best talent because many do not have large capital expenses weighing them down, he said.

It is one of the many questions the Chandler Education Coalition – a group of city, education and business leaders – hopes to answer.

The think tank for educational improvements will host its second meeting at Chandler City Hall on Wednesday, May 4.

Neighbors was one of two business representatives who attended the consortium’s first meeting in March. Intel Corp. education manager Cathleen Barton also took part. The computer chip-maker has been proactive in aiding education by encouraging employees to participate in schools, as well as sponsoring fairs and training teachers, said Terry Locke, director of communications for Chandler Unified School District.

The Chandler Chamber of Commerce is expected to be involved but was not represented in March, as it had recently lost its president.

The coalition’s creation was spearheaded by City Councilman Rick Heumann, who said he did not have any specific goals, just a general idea of improving schools.

Arizona’s education system was recently panned by former Intel executive Craig Barrett – though the company has recently said it will spend around $5 billion on a new factory here. Heumann said he wanted to make Chandler stand apart from statewide criticisms such as Barrett’s.

“Then our economic development team can go out and sell Chandler not just as a place to work, but as a place to live and raise a family,” he said.

The concept of an education coalition is not unusual. Tempe has one, but companies do not have representation in it.

The Chandler city limits include parts of four school districts: Kyrene, Chandler Unified and Gilbert Unified and Mesa Unified.

The main district in the city, Chandler Unified, spent $293 million in 2009-10, about $8,000 per student. Property taxes and state funding made up most of the bill, providing $106 million and $115 million respectively.

Intel, the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer, is the largest taxpayer for Chandler Unified, paying nearly 4 percent of property taxes that went to the school district in 2009-10, according to an unaudited summary prepared by the district. The top 10 taxpayers, all businesses, accounted for slightly less than 10 percent of the school’s property tax income. Donations added more than $3 million to Chandler Unified’s budget, according to the unaudited summary.

In the coalition’s initial meeting in March, there were apparent difficulties with having 30 attendees and several representatives for the same organization. Chandler Unified School District and Chandler-Gilbert Community College each brought five.

The result was a meeting that touched on a number of broad issues that Heumann felt could be more practically solved in small groups. He said the group will refine its focus in future meetings.

“We started off at about 40,000 feet, but in the next meeting we’re going to try to get it at ground level,” he said.

Neighbors agreed but noted there is an advantage to having the large group together at least some of the time. Gangplank frequently works with schools through its Gangplank Jr. program, and this was the first time he had seen all of Chandler’s education leaders – from kindergarten to college – in the same room.

Businesses usually get involved through parents, whether the owner or an employee is raising a student, Locke said. While donations and sponsorships are helpful, the most effective and cost-efficient way most companies can aid schools is by lending their employees’ time and expertise to give students access to people they can relate to in each profession.

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