Skyrocketing property values could soon shut future charter schools out of Scottsdale. The cost of moving in is forcing at least one school leader to reconsider whether the city is the best place for his nationally recognized program.
“In Scottsdale, the availability and the price is really brutal,” said Michael Block, co-founder of BASIS Scottsdale charter school. “Even the housing boom has really hurt us, in terms of our ability to recruit teachers.”
At the same time, charter school leaders say parents in Scottsdale show high interest in charter school programs.
“There are so many kids up and coming from Greyhawk and the DC Ranch and other massive communities,” said Daniel Scoggin, chief executive officer of Great Hearts Academy, which is looking at expanding into the city with a rigorous, liberal arts preparatory academy. “The city has allowed these communities to go in and they need to have educational solutions.”
Scoggin is scouring commercial spaces and churches to find a roughly 20,000-square-feet space that could accommodate a school for grades seven through 12.
But he’s finding places that charge roughly $20 per square foot — nearly twice what he can afford, he said.
Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools do not have access to money for construction through voterapproved bond issues, and they do not receive start-up funding from the School Facilities Board, said Kristen Jordison, executive director of the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.
“Facilities in general are a challenge for charter schools, and particularly in Scottsdale where rents of real estate are high. There’s no compensation for where you locate,” Jordison said, adding that charters receive the same per-pupil funding whether they are located in Paradise Valley or in Yuma.
Add to that the fact that charters in Scottsdale might soon be facing tougher zoning regulations, said Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute, which advocates for the schools.
The Scottsdale City Council is considering a proposed zoning change that would limit the number of charter and private schools, prohibiting them from being built within a quarter-mile of existing schools.
While there are 14 charters within the city limits, there are not currently “as many as the market could support,” Ladner said.
“It’s a shame Scottsdale prices are keeping out charter schools because they could use them,” he said. “An area like Scottsdale that has higher real estate prices and a nonsupportive City Council — they’re missing out.”
ONE CHARTER’S STRUGGLE
Michael Block is facing that situation as he tries to expand BASIS Scottsdale, a middle school with a math and science-heavy curriculum, into a high school.
Last year, he started a high school on the middle school campus.
Unfortunately, he said, the high cost of doing business meant it had to be a private, tuition-based school, not a free charter, like he has on his Tucson campus.
Block planned to move the high school to its own location this fall, but couldn’t find a suitable space.
“I think when we look for a charter high school space, we may need to move to north Phoenix, because it’s a little better than Scottsdale for availability and affordable prices,” he said.
The high property values also impacted his ability to recruit teachers from across the country.
“In the past, we’ve been able to pay lower wages because the cost of living in the Phoenix metro area was kind of moderate,” Block said. “But the housing boom — the prices have really hurt us in that respect.”
Charter officials are hoping the community will step up to help them.
Scoggin’s army of parent volunteers is trying to find a suitable church space to rent, at least for the first few years.
And Block hopes his school, with its math and science focus, will attract financial backing from business and technology communities.
“We have such rigorous math and science, we’re a national player,” he said. “I think the business community might find us of interest. Possibly we could have endowed classrooms.”