It was billed as a school district with no schools. But now that the north East Valley’s Christopher Verde School District is starting to form, board members have discovered it also has no money.
And, to make matters more complicated, some members of the Arizona School District Redistricting Commission are starting to question whether starting a transportation district like Christopher Verde is even legal under the circumstances.
For now, the one thing the governing board knows for sure is that the district needs funding.
“This is a brand new animal. We’re all trying to figure out, based on law, what we can do,” said Cassandra Perkins, a school board member. “We’re going to push hard, I guarantee that. We just have to fi gure out who we’ve got to push hard to. And if it’s the Legislature, I’m going to be camping out on their doorstep.”
Until November, the Troon area in north Scottsdale and the Rio Verde area north and east of the McDowell Mountains Regional Park didn’t belong to a school district. As a result, homeowners there didn’t pay school district taxes.
But changes in state law last year required Troon and Rio Verde residents in November to vote either to join a district or form a new one. One proposal that surfaced by proponents of a new district was that residents could pay to transport students to surrounding districts instead of building schools.
Voters ultimately picked that option. But while the law that created Christopher Verde was clear, the district would be responsible for students starting in the fall and it would be accountable for submitting a budget by July 15, it didn’t stipulate a source for startup funding. So when the governing board met for the first time last Monday, a lot of time was spent discussing how the district would receive initial funding when it won’t technically have a count of how many students are in the district until after school starts.
Lyle Friesen, Arizona Department of Education legislative, business and policy adviser, said the new district could try to make an argument that it would use an estimated count based on the number of students from Troon and Rio Verde attending schools in surrounding districts. That number was a little more than 500 when voters cast their ballots.
Board members said last week they are looking for different sources of discretionary funds and preparing to meet with representatives from the county and state school departments to discuss solutions.
J. Todd Rash said he has scoured state statutes to find solutions but was more impressed with what he hasn’t found than what he has.
“It talks about financing, but it sort of assumes you have money,” he said.
However, he said he learned Friday the school district may be able to solicit donations that function as tax credits.
The new district may also want to look at asking the Legislature for direction while it’s still in session, said Chuck Essigs, Arizona Association of School Business Officials director of government relations.
“The law’s pretty silent on a lot of this stuff,” said Alan Richardson, spokesman for Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling. “The state hasn’t gone through organizing a district in a long time.”
Exactly how long depends on whom you ask. Richardson said he’s heard it’s been 40 years, while Essigs said he can’t remember a new district forming in his 30-year career.
Existing districts have combined in that time, and joint technology districts, such as the governing board for the East Valley Institute of Technology, have also formed.
But Richardson pointed out those situations are different. And while state law governs how to unify two districts, there’s no blueprint on creating a new one, he said.
However, the board will probably have to find an official meeting place, develop and maintain a Web site and make sure the meeting place and education provided meets requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also likely record meetings and have a system of storing and retrieving public records, Richardson said.
Of course, all that assumes the district was formed correctly under the law.
Martin Shultz, redistricting commission chairman, said some members are questioning whether forming a transportation district in this case is just a method of avoiding joining another school district.
Shultz said the commission will examine the district and whether it falls under the group’s jurisdiction at its March 27 meeting.
“If it does, our preference would be to create efficient school districts of optimal size,” he said
Transportation districts do exist in Arizona, but they’re mostly in small, rural areas. Yavapai County has three transportation districts, said Tim Carter, county district superintendent. Each district has between five and 40 students who travel about an hour to get to school, he said.
What’s in a name?
Maricopa County Superintendent Sandra Dowling picked the name Christopher Verde for the new school district, said Alan Richardson, spokesman for her office.
However, that name is just a place holder, and the governing board can change it if they’d like, he said.
Richardson didn’t know why the name Christopher Verde was picked. Dowling was out of town Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment. The Christopher Verde School District governing board
Nine people submitted applications to Maricopa County Superintendent Sandra Dowling to be on the Christopher Verde School District’s first governing board. Dowling interviewed the candidates and selected the three-member board last month. The board members’ terms expire in December 2008.
Who she is:
Perkins has been in the pharmaceutical industry for 17 years. She has been a senior district manager with Solvay Pharmaceutical for the past seven. She’s also the current Parent Teacher Organization president at Pinnacle Peak Elementary School, where her daughter is in third grade.
Why she applied: Perkins began studying the school district issue in 2002, when she was trying to determine where to send her daughter to kindergarten. She has been an outspoken advocate of the Troon and Rio Verde areas joining an existing school district for the past few years. But now that voters have decided to form a new district, Perkins said she’ll “deal with the cards (she’s) been dealt” and that she wants to make sure parents are represented on the board.
J. TODD RASH
Who he is: Rash said the majority of his background is in advertising and marketing. He went to work for High Tech Institute, an educational group involved with running colleges around the country, in 1999.
Why he applied: Rash has two sons, ages 2 and 4, who will be entering public schools before too long. He said he was surprised by the outcome of November’s election. “With the circles I run in, there were a lot of families in the area and a lot of families were going to vote to join the school district,” he said. “I guess the circles I don’t run in are bigger than the circles I do.” But after the election, several of those neighbors encouraged him to apply for the board, so he did.
GLADYS STYLES JOHNSTON
Who she is:
Johnston has been in education since 1963, starting as a fifth-grade teacher. She has been an assistant principal, elementary school principal, professor and university administrator, including a stint as dean of the Arizona State University College of Education from 1985 to 1991. She retired in 2003.
Why she applied: After retiring, Johnston felt she should give back to her community in a different capacity. While she listened to the debate in her community about whether the area should form a school district or join Cave Creek’s, Johnston said she had no commitments to either camp and declined to say whether she thought forming a new district was the right decision.