The Scottsdale (Non)Parent Council | Part II.
Surviving since the 70s on the coerced donations from schools and PTOs, this little org has an outsized influence…
In Part I we got our first look at the SPC, a civic organization formed in the late 70s when women like my mother were holding Tupperware parties and watching Dallas on TV. At the time, the population of Scottsdale was under 90,000. Now it’s over 250,000 - and in my view, the SPC, as an institution, is simply not designed to represent a majority of the community of this size.
Although SPC purports to represent parents before the school district, in reality, individual parents are only non-voting members unless a parent finds a way to get a school principal to nominate them or they otherwise are elected by existing insiders to a leadership position. By design, they are gatekeepers to influence and voice. In practice, it is a carefully controlled entity meant to reflect what the district wants from a parent organization – compliant, manageable and fully aligned with district goals and ideological bent.
The influence is real – they have exclusive and regular access to district leadership; they are the go-to source for school committees on curriculum and superintendent searches – among others.
So, where do they get their money? You of course – one way or the other. Here’s Part II from my guest contributors. Part III - The Receipts - is in the works.
A Pass-Through System for Funding a Middleman Organization
In Part I we noted that the official mission and purpose of the Scottsdale Parent Council (SPC) is “to promote communication and collaborative relationships between Scottsdale Unified School District families, district leadership and staff, to support and to advocate for the highest quality of education for all students attending schools in SUSD.”
The SPC has been around since the late 1970s. So why do most parents not even know of SPC’s existence? Most have never received communication from SPC or met an SPC school representative. Several schools in the district don’t even have any SPC representatives. Do parents from those schools receive the same ability to “communicate and collaborate” with leadership and staff?
We believe SPC and district don't really care . Fewer voices actually works out better for them - a smaller organization means easier control of SPC leadership; SPC is comfortable in its role as the anointed middleman; it gets to speak for ALL parents because it has the exclusive access. SPC is the only district-wide parent organization that SUSD recognizes. SPC is the parents - by self-designated proxy.
SUSD actually encourages SPC to act as a sort of permanently deputized parent. This allows the district to narrow the range of ideological viewpoints it has to engage. It’s a win-win for the district and the narrow viewpoints of SPC.
“Tell us what you think!”, says SPC. “We need to know so we can represent YOU.” This is SPC’s unofficial motto. But make no mistake - it doesn’t actually hold the belief that a democratic process requires a third-party middleman to disseminate information from the public to an elected governing board or its administration. This is all part of its ruse to silence dissent and control the narrative, and allied (or naive) district officials eat it up. Since Superintendent Menzel’s hiring (as you might recall from Part I, the interview process was unofficially assisted by SPC), SPC has hosted him for monthly Q&As and has also hosted a who’s who of district officials. SPC is apparently the only place where a wide variety of contact with district staff occurs. SPC is the only place where Menzel regularly participates in Q&A with the community.
It’s helpful for his contract negotiations:
As highlighted in Part I, Menzel prefers to communicate with parents in a controlled environment. What he fails to acknowledge is that not only are very few parental voices represented by SPC, but SPC should not be the go-to entity for those voices. He has held successful general town hall discussions in the past, but now seems to prefer to have the propagating Scottsdale Propaganda Council control the communication. This is particularly troublesome when parents largely seem unaware of SPC events (they are not well-attended or well-advertised). Menzel knows that the less parents know and attend, the less conflicting voices there will be. But there is another great benefit to parents being unaware of the Scottsdale Propaganda Council and its role as district middleman: parents are less likely to know that a majority of SPC funding comes from their financial support of their schools’ PTO, PTA, and APTs.
Yep - out of SPC’s miniscule $3750.00 FY21 budget, $2200.00 comes from funds donated to public school parent organizations - donated with the intent of supporting that 501(c)(3), to help your school, not SPC. How many donors are aware of this?
In FY20, the dependence on member school funding was even worse: a whopping 91% of SPC’s overall budget.
Parent organizations for each school are annually invoiced for $100 in “donations” to SPC. No goods or services provided in exchange - just simply, invoiced. As if it was an obligation, a normal bill. When the invoices are paid (and they usually are) it creates a pass-through funding system without any disclosure to the original parent donors.
Menzel is aware of this coercive fleecing of schools and has discussed the process in his Board Updates. He uses air quotes, as if he knows full-well how this game is being played:
What if a school doesn’t have a parent organization to receive the invoice? No problem - the school principal will “coordinate” payment:
These “dues” (and other donations) help maintain SPC as an exclusive clique with privileged access to advance its “purpose and mission.” Are parents even aware of the committees and content SPC creates and issues to advance this purpose and mission?
Broke and Woke Middleman
There are other district parent organization nonprofits in the Phoenix area. Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) has a parent council similar in organization to SPC. Just like SUSD, it oddly shares a corporate mailing address with PVUSD. Like SUSD it purports to help schools tackle the problems of limited resources and achievement gaps. However, this remains to be seen in terms of results. Their main purpose appears to be, again, to serve as THE parent liaison with the district.
In addition to its hosting of occasional presentations or holding Q&As with a district official - which really should be held by the district itself with direct notification to ALL parents, SPC’s primary method of operating is to conduct closed door committee meetings concerning what should be SUSD objectives, such as special education. SPC primarily uses its committee system in order to advance its purpose and mission. SPC loves identity politics, and if you disagree with its positions, you will be mocked.
A problem arises when SPC pursues politically-driven agendas within the taxpayer-funded public school sector by using resources intended for schools and the district, and the district is receptive to it. SUSD is and should be the entity that establishes special and standing committees for communication and collaboration with district parents and other stakeholders on key district issues. Other area school districts, such as Gilbert Unified, communicate and collaborate directly with parents via a committee system. By comparison, SPC is more of a redundant middleman, and an unfortunate distraction from what SUSD should be doing directly with stakeholders. Furthering the redundancy of SPC is that SUSD has begun to expand its committee system and has created a committee hub on its website. That is the type of direct communication it should conduct with the community.
We know that SPC is being funded, in part, by many unassuming parents; we know that most parents are unaware of (or uninterested in) SPC participation; we know that SPC purports to speak on behalf of the entire parent community - often with an agenda, and we know that SPC has a direct line of communication with key district officials in SUSD to help carry out its “purpose and mission”.
What we don’t know is why anyone in the community continues to tolerate it.
End of Part II. In Part III - we bring you the receipts.