Hey, Governor Ducey:
I see that you're going to tour the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf on Wednesday.
Cool! I toured the facility a couple of months back and have done a little homework on the place. In fact, I have some questions I haven't been able to get answers to. I thought you might have more luck doing the asking, so I've jotted down a few notes for you in anticipation of your visit.
First, I hope you ask your staff why you are visiting on a Wednesday.
Look, I know why. You are there for a photo op — to hobnob with the president of Gallaudet University (the nation's pre-eminent university for deaf students) and deliver a speech to kick off a basketball tournament with participants from all over the West.
And a giant missed opportunity.
I know from your press releases and the articles you've proudly shared from local media that you are concerned about making sure funding is increased for early intervention/education programs for students with hearing loss in Arizona. That is admirable! So why are you bothering to tour the facility on the day preschool is not in session?
PDSD's preschool is a four-day-a-week program. Your loss — you won't get to see the school's tiniest students working to meet the challenges before them, challenges like learning the alphabet and the very basics that get a child ready to read. Think about how you learned to read, governor. Phonics, right? That's not possible for a deaf child; or at the least, it's a lot more complicated than it was when you and I learned to read. And that's part of why, across the country, high schools regularly graduate deaf kids who read at a third- or fourth-grade level.
I'm sorry you won't get to see the preschoolers. But maybe some of the teachers and staff will be around, and if they are, I have a few questions for you to ask them.
For starters, I know it's not on your tour schedule, but you really should ask to visit the preschool building, TCTC (that stands for Totally Committed to Children), and ask the people who work in it if they feel safe. It's a small building at the back of campus; I'm told it used to be a Molly Moppets preschool that someone donated and had moved to campus. It looks a lot different than the beautiful high school facilities you'll be touring.
Ask the PDSD facilities manager to recount the number of visits engineers and other professionals have made to TCTC in the last few weeks, trying to decide whether the building is in immediate danger of collapse. (Ryan Ducharme, spokesman for the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind, the agency that runs PDSD, assures me that it is perfectly safe.) The termite damage was enough for PDSD to ask the legislature repeatedly to tear it down. So far the answer's been no. While you're at it, ask to see the classrooms that staff have complained about; Ducharme says there's definitely not any mold in them.
You really should ask to see the preschool playground — it's not far from the lovely gym where the basketball games will be held. Ask the staff how many kids enrolled in PDSD's preschool have mobility issues, and how many are able to access the playground equipment. Ask where the adaptive swing set is. (At the moment, there's no swing set at all.) Ask how much it would cost to order a swing set that all the kids could use — and that would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Speaking of the ADA, ask about those wood chips on the ground. Last fall, after a bunch of playground equipment on the PDSD campus was condemned and refurbishments were made. Instead of replacing the preschool playground wood chips with a smooth surface, more wood chips were poured. Ryan Ducharme showed me a letter that says that those wood chips are ADA approved, but the rules say that maintenance is constant. I wonder, is it being done? And more important, is it really possible for staff to get kids in wheelchairs or other adaptive equipment to the playground? Ask them.
By now, you might be wondering about the overall state of the facilities at PDSD. I was. In fact, in June 2017 I asked the Department of Administration for a copy of the last few quadrennial reports that had been performed at PDSD. I can't imagine that I have to tell you, Governor, that these reports are mandated by statute and that each state agency is supposed to perform one every four years. I do wonder if you are aware that when the economy tanked in 2009, the state simply stopped performing them. And that while some have been done in the last few months, it's not nearly as many as I bet anyone working (or studying) in a government-owned facility would like.
Here's a funny coincidence: A few weeks after I asked PDSD's quadrennial report, the state conducted one! DOA spokeswoman Megan Rose told me last fall that the draft was complete and she'd give me a copy as soon as it was finalized.
I'm still waiting. But maybe you can get your hands on it. Perhaps you can ask during halftime.