Despite concerns over infighting, Scottsdale school leaders approved spending $10,000 this year for a lobbyist that will work for it and a halfdozen other school districts. The Scottsdale Unified School District governing board voted unanimously last week to contribute the money to hire Public Policy Partners.
The company will lobby for funding for utilities and facilities and a professional growth program for teachers.
The firm will represent not only Scottsdale on those issues, but also the Chandler, Gilbert, Vail, Dysart and Deer Valley unified school districts and the Glendale Elementary School District.
Before approving the plan, board member Eric Meyer said he was worried last year’s lobbying effort could repeat itself.
Scottsdale entered into a similar agreement with several districts that wasn’t effective because the districts disagreed with each other, he said.
Meyer suggested looking into developing a full-time, inhouse lobbyist.
“The way funding for education has developed, every district is different,” he said. “It’s rare we’re going to agree on the same thing, We’re a big enough district and these issues aren’t going to go away.”
But Dave Peterson, district chief of finance and facilities, said a partnership makes sense because all of the districts in the agreement are committed to the same three issues.
It could cost Scottsdale $50,000 or more to hire a lobbyist on its own, he said.
“If we don’t participate at all or try to do something on our own, we’re going to be left at the bus station and the bus is going to drive away,” Peterson said.
The board also approved spending $15,000 to hire Michael Smith, a lobbyist the district has used in the past for transportation funding and
other issues more specific to Scottsdale.
The lobbyists for the partnership are needed to ensure the continuation of excess utilities funding, money the state provides school districts to compensate for their high utility costs. It is scheduled to disappear in 2009, Peterson said.
If the money is cut, the district would lose $5.9 million annually, which is 3.7 percent of its $158 million maintenance and operations budget, he said.
Without that funding, the district would have to look at cutting programs, salaries and possibly individual positions, Peterson added.
The district has considered hiring its own lobbyist and would probably start training someone for the next legislative session in the spring, Peterson said. Having a full-time lobbyist could provide the district with more focused attention and could identify issues earlier, he said.
“There’s so many things going on down there (at the Legislature), you need a lot of people,” he said.