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CCUSD budget takes forefront at candidate forum


Elizabeth Medora

SCOTTSDALE – Cave Creek Unified School District Governing Board candidates agree that CCUSD offers excellent educational opportunities for students – the question remains how to adequately fund and support these opportunities, and candidates differ on the best ways to provide resources for CCUSD students.

Janet Busbee, Susan Clancy, Kathryn Hill, and James Rich are running for the three open seats on the board. Cactus Shadows High School IB students presented a candidate forum on Monday night to help the community learn more about the board candidates.

Incumbent Janet Busbee gave the first candidate statement, praising the efforts of the students in presenting the forum and noting that students’ work portrayed the excellence in CCUSD education.

“I will continue to go the extra mile to make sure we have considered all options,” Busbee said, speaking of the budget issues CCUSD has faced. “I will work to find a balance between what we do in the classroom and how we pay for it.”

Susan Clancy, who has served on the CCUSD board in the past and is currently on the Cave Creek Town Council, spoke of potential changes to the teacher evaluation system and said she has “always supported teachers and staff.”

“I promise to the public that I will be transparent in the way I vote and can only hope that others will be open to discussion,” Clancy said.

Kathryn Hill, who is currently the president of the Cactus Shadows PTO, noted that she has been a resident of CCUSD for over 14 years. Her experience in the CCUSD includes volunteering in classrooms and on site councils and working as a substitute teacher. She praised the CCUSD teachers, saying that she has seen “how they mentor our kids.”

“I believe our students are amazing kids,” Hill said, praising CCUSD as well and saying she wanted to “continue the amazing job.”

James Rich noted that he and his family moved to CCUSD four years ago, and his children attend CCUSD schools. He has become progressively more involved in volunteering with the district, including serving on the Supervisor’s Community Council.

“We love the school district, we love the teachers,” Rich said of his family.

Asked to name top concerns and priorities for CCUSD, Hill specified teacher attraction and retention, reducing class size, increasing state funding, maintaining and improving facilities, adding curriculum opportunities, and improving community interaction.

“We need to do more to retain the teachers we have,” Hill said. Referring to funding, she related her experience with a statewide advocacy for public education group, and said, “We need to become more involved, as we can, with the legislature.

Busbee addressed the issue of how to approach budget cuts, if needed, calling it her “least favorite thing to do.” She noted that this year’s budget included plenty of input from school campuses, with commentary from staff and parents.

“Having been on the board for four years, I’ve been through several different types of budget cuts, and this last go-around of how things were reduced has probably been the most fair,” Busbee noted, specifying that campuses were able to address specific needs.

“Any kind of budget cut that’s needed, the classroom is going to be the last place I go,” she emphasized.

Teacher retention is an issue in many school districts, including CCUSD, and Rich addressed the problem, discussing funding. He noted that keeping education taxes local is a “major goal” of his campaign. He also noted that he would be open to examining other ways of helping teachers, such as finding ways to reduce their workload and improve working conditions.

“I know a lot of teachers who do stay, stay because they love it here,” Rich said, emphasizing the hard work and dedication of CCUSD teachers.

Clancy addressed the ongoing shortage of teachers for STEM positions, saying the district needs to form partnerships with groups who can help fill the positions.

“In the past, special stipends were provided for hard-to-fill positions,” Clancy said.

The candidates all agreed CCUSD needs more funding, but the way to obtain that funding remains uncertain.

Clancy advocated for the formation of an “independent, highly qualified committee” to research funding options, saying that this would provide “much needed transparency and community conversation.”

Hill referred to her work with the Arizona Parent Network, saying that funding could be approached “at the legislative level” for “tax money that should stay in our district.” She spoke of the possibility that the state might once again support all-day kindergarten; if the state funded all-day kindergarten instead of the district funding the program itself, more district funds would become available. She emphasized that the budget priority is to cut costs outside of the classroom.

Rich said the administration “has done a great job in making ends meet.” He reemphasized that his main priority is “trying to keep our local taxes local,” and he noted that the more people who are aware of the tax issues – that CCUSD taxpayers’ funds don’t all stay in the district – that the more heat would be put upon the legislature to change this.

“I think lobbying our legislators is critical – they sort of hold the keys to the money,” Busbee said. She spoke of the need to market the quality of CCUSD’s educational system, noting that the district has an Excelling designation and is one of the top districts in Arizona, saying the district needs to communicate “what we’ve done, what we’ve achieved.”

Clancy dismissed lobbying over keeping taxes local, saying that the state would not make different laws for “small amounts of people” and that the funds “help equalize out many other districts.”

“I doubt that’s going away,” she said.

Answering a further budget question, Rich specified, “I understand the legislature may not pass a law that refers to a specific entity.” He referred to the “forced merger” that took place when a neighboring district that had no students was made to merge with CCUSD, noting CCUSD had been at the center of some very specific legislation in that case. He reiterated that the main focus is “keeping those monies here.”

Busbee said that it is “important that our situation is clearly communicated to legislators.”

“I believe in this district, and we really can’t do this without some consideration from our state government,” Busbee said.