School districts usually compete to attract the best teachers and the most students, but at a meeting Monday called an "un-conference," leaders from several East Valley school districts met to discuss how they could work together to survive mounting problems caused by shrinking budgets.

The school districts convened at Kyrene School District’s headquarters, and members of the business community were invited to share their ideas as well. The discussion was led by facilitators from Gangplank, which is a local group of individuals and small businesses committed to creating a new economic engine in Phoenix.

KSD Superintendent Dr. David Schauer invited Gangplank to host the "un-conference" at KSD’s headquarters when he saw the group had an approach that could benefit schools.

"We face unprecedented challenges in the field of education, and it’s time to act collectively," Schauer said. "The old ways of working are no longer appropriate, and we all have to be leaders instead of expecting other people to find solutions for us."

Schauer invited 13 school districts to participate as well as members of the business community and government officials.

"The turnout wasn’t as big as we’d hoped, but it was a nice mix of people," he said.

Leaders from Mesa Public Schools, Scottsdale Unified School District, Fountain Valley School District, J.O. Combs Unified School District and Chandler Gilbert Community College attended, as well as representatives from Intel, the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce and the state house.

"The biggest advantages of districts working together is that they are no longer working against each other and they can share resources," said Suzie de Prez of Mesa Public Schools.

Preliminary plans of action and collaboration were developed at the "un-conference," but all participants agreed that nothing would happen unless they continue meeting and acting upon the ideas that come up.

For more information on upcoming meeting dates and progress, visit

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