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August 5, 2013

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Schools Report Card

  |   Video
  • Letter grades have been issued for Arizona public schools by the Arizona Department of Education. State Superintendent John Huppenthal will talk about the grades, which have shown some improvement.
  • John Huppenthal - Superintendent, Arizona
Category: Education   |   Keywords: education, arizona, grade, public schools, update,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. The latest letter grades for Arizona Public Schools are out, the assessments issued by the State's Department of Education. Joining us now is Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal. Good to see you again.

John Huppenthal: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: The grades are out, slight improvement?

John Huppenthal: The math scores are up a percentage point, reading scores up a percentage point. We were elated, for the first time we are a minority-majority school system. That's increasing the demographic challenge to our school system. We have met that demographic challenge and put some points on the board, too.

Ted Simons: 21% of schools increased, 16% decreased. Obviously there's success in there, but why not more improvement?

John Huppenthal: Well, we have a number of challenges. I mentioned the demographic challenge they have overcome and made some progress. I think we're elated with that. We have financial stress that they overcame, the transition to new higher standards, and new teacher evaluations and new principal evaluations. There were a number of shocks to the system. They digested it all and put some points up, I'm elated.

Ted Simons: Give us some insight on what's being looked at and how it's being assessed.

John Huppenthal: We had less than 20% of our schools being A schools when we started. Now that's moved up to 28%. People perhaps rightfully see a little grade inflation. The thing we are going to do when we move to the new standards is to take new look at this and see if there's a clear dividing line. We want an environment where the typical student in our system for 13 years, if they are in an A school, they go out to college and career ready. They need to look at what they call the psychometrics, the measurements of the progress, and make sure the student comes out after 13 years, college and career ready.

Ted Simons: I want to talk about the new standards in a second. As far as the criteria is concerned, passing AIMS? That is a concern?

John Huppenthal: There's two measures, the academic results and academic gains. The results are what percentage of the students pass the AIMS. And the academic gains is what's the percentile rank of the gains of the students in your school. With a particular emphasis on the --

Ted Simons: 1% uptake, that sounds kind of modest here.

John Huppenthal: It is pretty modest. But when you think of the demographic challenges, more of the students from low-income minority backgrounds, and all of the shocks to the system right now, I was pretty happy. I was actually anticipating we might take a dip. When we move up under those challenges and stresses, I'm happy.

Ted Simons: 56% passed the writing section, again, those are not high.

John Huppenthal: Those are some separate issues there, and one of the things we very much have to consider is the point system by which we do our letter grades in our school system. We are looking at all the other states and think tanks and what they are saying. I think we need to consider moving writing in and making it part of the letter grading, and we have to move the science in and make it part of the letter grading. Finally there need to be some other aspects with quality in there, quality as perceived by parents and students, too.

Ted Simons: Common core, the new requirements coming into the schools, we've talked about it a lot on the program, but a lot of folks are just now figuring out things are changing come this next school year.

John Huppenthal: It's a logical time to do it. Again, these aren't decisions I make by myself. We have to make sure these are fully invested scientifically, so we get a consensus in the school community. We have an advisory community that are technical experts, so there's a process. I think as I look at the research, we need to head down that road.

Ted Simons: Will we be heading down that road when common core takes over, or will there be a bump in the road?

John Huppenthal: Common core is a much higher standard than the AIMS standard. We will have a lower percentage of students passing the test from the get-go. We will have to rework the letter grading system.

Ted Simons: There will be changes in terms of the assessment?

John Huppenthal: Absolutely. We will roll out an essentially brand-new test. It's going to do some very important things. It'll more accurately measure academic achievement at the upper end of the scale. We haven't done that very accurately. I think it's a huge weakness of the AIMS portfolio. That's a major fault of AIMS.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the demographic challenges out there. What are the impacts you think of budget cuts? You've been quoted as saying that perhaps the legislature has done too much in terms of cutting the education budget here in Arizona. Talk to me about that.

John Huppenthal: Part of this, I went into the press conference wanting to lay out my results, and Howie Fischer did what he does and changed the subject. I've always felt the education community should get its prior year of funding plus almost enough to cover inflation. So not enough to completely cover it because they should contribute to the productivity of society, too. We haven't come close to doing that. As a result, there's a lot of stress on the system. Money may not be correlated with outcomes, but the lack of money induces stress and distracts the system from the primary mission, budget cuts.

Ted Simons: You were at the legislature, now in this position. Are you seeing things a little differently?

John Huppenthal: I am to a certain extent. I continue to read a lot of research and I see New York City, they almost doubled their budget from $12 to $21 billion, not a lot to show for it, if anything. States like Wyoming, up to $16,000 for students, not a lot to show for it. I know the distraction caused by budget cuts, and it distracts my leaders from their primary mission, which is supporting students and leading in the classroom.

Ted Simons: Sounded like you gave a shot when you said that corporate gifts were appropriate when --

John Huppenthal: I’m a firm believer we need to keep our tax rates as low as possible. Where I get extreme concern is when they go out and try to buy economic growth. I read a lot of research. When I was in the legislature I read a lot of research on economic development. There is a powerful case to be made that your students benefit from lower tax rates and good economic portfolio. Over the last 20 years Arizona ranks fifth in the nation at economic growth and job growth. But a part of that portfolio was never buying your economic growth. When you're cutting education and also they don't realize that we're endangering the future of school choice. School choice depends on a healthy general fund. If that general fund is in critical condition it could shut down our entire school choice market. Our school choice enterprise is a huge economic generator for Arizona.

Ted Simons: The Speaker of the House heard your quotes and commented, he basically said you've never been down there lobbying for classroom funding. Is he correct?

John Huppenthal: Classroom funding, the speaker of the House, I have no problems with the speaker of the House. I applaud him completely. He was responsible for leading us through a very tough time, made tough decisions, no, problem with that at all. This was started a little bit by Howard Fischer.

Ted Simons: Have you been down there lobbying for funding?

John Huppenthal: Not this year. I was happy with that. What I'm concerned about now is where, with the economy turning up a little bit, I'm worried about them going out on the corporate giveaways instead of sticking to the priorities, which should be education. They do a number of corruptions. They corrupt the lobbying process, corrupt the economic development process, you have the economists coming up with the fake studies about the impact of these things. I feel strongly about -- and this isn't railing against tax cuts. Tax cuts strengthen the economy and give jobs to students leaving high school and college. That's healthy for students.

Ted Simons: But it is suggesting that you go down there or you might be going down there in the next session perhaps, and protecting Arizona education funding.

John Huppenthal: Well, I felt more strongly about this, and what they do down there from the standpoint of education and the future of our children, the future of our state. I feel like I don't have -- I don't have to be a part of that. In some ways it's harder to speak when you're a part of the system than when you're outside of it. When I see a lot of this giveaway behavior down there, I will speak about it more loudly. I think it puts at risk the future of our state and its prospects, too.

Ted Simons: Speaker thanks. With those ideas maybe you should run for the legislature again.

John Huppenthal: Sometimes it's easier to speak when you're outside the legislature. Let me tell you, I do nothing but laud the leadership of the speaker. Est returns us to the top of the nation. I have no problem with the speaker and his actions.

Ted Simons: Good to see you again, thanks for joining us.

John Huppenthal: Thank you.

Tempe Developments

  |   Video
  • The city of Tempe has seen a burst of large developments. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell will discuss Tempe’s large-project building boom, including the massive office building being constructed for State Farm Insurance.
  • Mark Mitchell - Mayor, Tempe
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: tempe, development, construction,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Planning and real estate developments are on the increase in Tempe with a number of ambitious commercial projects ready to get started. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell is here. Let's start with a biggie, the development along Town Lake. This is huge.

Mark Mitchell: This is huge. This is the largest Class A office building ever built at one time in the state's history, right now in downtown Tempe on the Rio Salado. It's going to go north of stadium between Rural and about halfway down close to the residential Bridge View units on Tempe Town Lakes.

Ted Simons: Those are parking lots right now?

Mark Mitchell: They are.

Ted Simons: Do they go all the way to the last residential tower?

Mark Mitchell: There will be one more residential unit built between State Farm and Bridge View. We have one more residential use called the Loft, and a Class A $600 million project.

Ted Simons: Office only? Retail? Residential?

Mark Mitchell: There will be some retail to help serve the campus. I believe there's 40,000 square feet of retail.

Ted Simons: At the State Farm development?

Mark Mitchell: Yes.

Ted Simons: But you said there would be another residential tower next to those two along the waterfront?

Mark Mitchell: The City Council approved and they will hopefully be starting soon.

Ted Simons: Isn't there another commercial office real estate deal going right there at the corner when you get off the Mill Avenue bridge?

Mark Mitchell: There is. It was the first project on the lake. We are hopefully soon going to break ground on a tower on the Hayden Free Lake side. It's going to be 10 stories, just going mirror the original plan.

Ted Simons: Just basically another tower to go with the --

Mark Mitchell: Yes.

Ted Simons: Okay. Has ground been broken on the State Farm development thing?

Mark Mitchell: Very, very soon, this month.

Ted Simons: What kind of timetable are we looking at?

Mark Mitchell: No phasing in, everything at once.

Ted Simons: 2015? That quickly?

Mark Mitchell: Yes.

Ted Simons: Are you ready for this?

Mark Mitchell: We're ready for it. We're working with our partners at ASU and we are very well planned out for the infrastructure needs of our community. I think we're ready to go.

Ted Simons: How many employees?

Mark Mitchell: They are saying 8,000, we'll see what happens.

Ted Simons: As far as the original plan for that stretch, was it something similar to this? When did State Farm all of a sudden become a player here? This seems relatively recent.

Mark Mitchell: It is relatively recent. But the development in and around Tempe is not by accident. For many, many years the council and past councils have worked diligently to have the infrastructure to house projects like we're going to see for State Farm and other projects like the Grand. We will see Go Daddy coming to a 150,000 square foot building. They are coming into Arizona. This is a work in progress. We have prepared ourselves very, very well to handle the infrastructure needs for the projects to come to our city.

Ted Simons: Were incentives involved to entice these corporations?

Mark Mitchell: No. The only incentive is to continue to invest to attract companies. We have a great quality of life and companies look for that. We have a great art scene and public amenities for our residents, as well as employees that come here. The attraction is our central location, right next to the University, the downtown area, great neighborhoods. I know you just had Superintendent Huppenthal on. The high school district has the highest number of Flynn scholars of any high school in the state.

Ted Simons: If this were happening five years ago, would they be more responsible for maintenance of the lake than they would be now?

Mark Mitchell: It's -- no. The original intent was to cover the cost of the lake. So each landowner is assessed a lake assessment, the district that we have.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Mark Mitchell: Right now State Farm will pay into that lake assessment when they are built. 100% of construction costs divvied up among the shareholders on the lake. It's a good thing to have that paying the costs of the lake.

Ted Simons: I know the city is looking at maybe a revised plan to make it more affordable for development there. Give us an understanding on that. First of all, are you looking at that? And secondly, is that a wise idea?

Mark Mitchell: We're looking at an undeveloped property. 20% of the lake assessments with interest. The City of Tempe is fiscally responsible. So we reduced and refinanced our construction debt. Our rate is only 3.64%. We had to go to the facilities district. We have been charging them 5%. We are trying to be a market in line with this to encourage more development. The State Farm project is going to be a catalyst for more development to happen.

Ted Simons: Critics are saying that significant developers are getting breaks regarding the cost of the lake. You say --

Mark Mitchell: No, it's just the opposite. If we're paying 3.64 interest on the construction debt, working with the landowners, that's all we're doing, being in line with the market.

Ted Simons: Does it mean higher taxes? More involvement with Tempe residents here?

Mark Mitchell: It's not going to increase taxes or deplete funds going to neighborhood parks or other capital improvement projects.

Ted Simons: One last thing about the lake. Original projections were the lake would be built out by now and development would account for maybe 60% of the cost of the lake. I think it's like 20%. What happened?

Mark Mitchell: The economy. It's the free market. We're working with the free market. We have development on the north and south shore. We approved the Loft, which is a residential use and we have State Farm. Now we have more interest in seeing the economy turn back around.

Ted Simons: And we're looking at the -- at a division of the State Farm development, a projection of what it's going look like. Everything from the condos all the way over, that's massive. That really is a massive project.

Mark Mitchell: It really is massive. It's very good-looking architecture with Davis Architects. We will still have the view corridors, which I think is important.

Ted Simons: It's basically not side by side.

Mark Mitchell: Correct.

Ted Simons: Let's get to Mill and University, and this is the idea of USA Basketball -- build a bunch of basketball courts there? What's going on there?

Mark Mitchell: For many, many years we've been looking for a hotel conference center. Out of this came discussions for an entertainment venue. By no means is this a done deal. We have to work out the agreements with the State and Arizona State University. We are partnering with them. The hotel aspects with the meeting space, but also the opportunity to have USA place as well.

Ted Simons: With this being an ASU project, how much input does it city have? What are your concerns and how much impact do those concerns have on the project?

Mark Mitchell: Our concern is we need meeting space to go after those many conferences, if you will, to complement the stuff the University is providing from the Bioscience Institute and the W.P. Carey School. They need a space to use for conferences and meeting space. It's a tremendous opportunity for tourism. Centrally located, proximity to Sky Harbor, it only makes sense to have the space.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the plan is happening as you think it should happen.

Mark Mitchell: Yes.

Ted Simons: There is an arena there?

Mark Mitchell: There could be potential for an arena there.

Ted Simons: 5,000 seats?

Mark Mitchell: That's what's being reported.

Ted Simons: Office space, retail?

Mark Mitchell: There will be residential there as well. We're talking about where the chili's is and a bunch of parking. Where Tower Records used to be.

Ted Simons: When could this break ground?

Mark Mitchell: Hopefully we'll see, hopefully within a year. That all depends on the agreements the City Council approves, as well as working with ASU.

Ted Simons: Not to get too deep in the weeds here because it's an ASU project does the city get much in the way of tax revenue here? Do they have to reimburse the project in any way?

Mark Mitchell: It depends on how the deal is structured. It will be performed based, in other words, no city tax dollars. Whatever revenues are produced will go back into the project to help with the project. I think it's very, very important we understand what tourism means to the state of Arizona. We attempt to go after those tours to really get that marketing exposure for Tempe.

Ted Simons: But there will be infrastructure costs.

Mark Mitchell: There will be, and the project development should pay for itself, that's going to happen.

Ted Simons: Sounds like you are very busy down there. It'll be going to see how this all shakes out.

Mark Mitchell: It's exciting.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Mark Mitchell: Thank you very much.