When Disaster Strikes – Part One

24 Sep

This is the tale of an incredible response to massive storm damage.  It is a case study in how to do things right following a disaster.

The Valley of the Sun, the local name for the greater metro-Phoenix area, gets an average of just 28 days of rain per year and only 7 inches of annual rainfall.  This compares to 100 days on average in the US and an average 37 inches of rain.  So it was a totally unprepared region on October 5, 2010 that experienced a freakish hail storm that literally ripped a path across the most populated area of the state.

The daytime temperatures had been in the 105-106 F degree range the days before.  On October 5, 2013, the temperature dropped from the high 80s to the the 50s in seconds.  A thirty degree drop in just seconds was followed by a further drop down to the 40s.   I was personally stuck in the third and most frightening wave.  The first two hail storms passed earlier in the day.  Around 5 pm, coming back from a meeting.  I was in a Honda S2000 two seat sports car convertible with a canvas top.

The storm had seemed to pass when the sunlit day turned dark and hail the size of golf balls and softballs came crashing down.  I was stuck on a highway on-ramp, surrounded by cars that started ramming each other in the suddenly icy road.  I slid to a stop as it sounded like a mob hitting my car with baseball bats and shotgun blasts.  I could not move to shelter as I was hemmed in by vehicles with a mini-van sliding to within inches of my driver door.  The hail was coming from all directions.  It hit my roof so hard that the hail was forcing the fabric down and hitting me inside.  I had to lay across the passenger seat to get low enough not to be hit.  I thought about fleeing the car but did not know if the hail could kill me if I left.  I wondered what would happen if the roof ripped open or the glass started to shatter.  It seemed like forever before the storm passed.  In reality, the hail lasted about twenty minutes.

My car had every piece of metal damage and all the glass cracked.  I had over 800 dents in my car, including a hail stone that had broke through the reflector on my trunk lid, through the trunk, and shattered the wiring inside.  My roof was shredded.  When my car was repaired, every external metal panel, glass, roof and lamp had to be replaced.  It cost around $25,000 to repair and took four months to get back.  My car damage and repair time was nothing compared to the damage wreaked upon the vehicles and buildings across Phoenix and the surrounding cities.

Video of the storm:


Video of a roof hit by the hail:


The storm had hailstones measured over 2 inches in diameter and caused $2.7 Billion in damage in less than an hour around 5 pm drive time for Phoenix commuters.

Scott McCleary, of the Valley Schools Insurance Trust (VSIT), was on the front lines.  VSIT is a joint purchasing pool for liability insurance for three very large school districts; Peoria Unified School District (PUSD), Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) and the Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD).  Together, the school districts have over 100 campuses and thousands of school buses and maintenance vehicles.  In addition to the three hail storms in one day, buildings were suffering flooding from both rain and from leaking roofs.  Scott McCleary arrived at the Pioneer Elementary School campus first in the Peoria Unified School District.

Scott McCleary - VSIT

Scott McCleary – VSIT

Pioneer had flooding damage, and VSIT’s top priority is always to mitigate damage and avoid school closures and disruptions.  VSIT investigates, comes up with risk management plans, assists in securing vendors and pricing and coordinates with insurers and re-insurers.  When Scott arrived he immediately scaled the building to check out the roof damage.  Scott’s first impression was a bit of shock.  After a career inspecting roof damage on buildings, this was the most extensive storm damage he had ever seen.  “It looked like it had a million holes.  I’d never seen anything like that.”  Scott immediately got on the phone to Tom Bock, the Administrator for VSIT.  “It looks like we have a lot of damage out here, and I’m only at the first campus.”

Tom Bock put into action a plan of attack that would succeed where many others have still not repaired damage as the second anniversary of the storm approaches.  The school districts in VSIT pool their liability insurance and have a re-insurer for each incident starting at $100,000.  The re-insurer for this storm was Travelers.  Travelers was contacted immediately by VSIT and brought in.  By the end of the first day, Scott and the on-site adjuster had walked, inspected and put into action mitigation at four campuses.  Each campus has from several hundred to a few thousand students, hundreds of faculty, and multiple buildings.

After the first day, the Travelers Catastrophic loss Team (CAT) was flown in from New York.  Over the next two months, 115 campuses were full inspected and close to 100 have hail damage to roofs, rooftop air conditioning units, shade structures, windows, skylights, light structures, and paint.  Amazingly, out of around 4,400 solar panels, just seven were damaged.  The damage to the vehicle fleets were also dramatic.  Tops of school buses were dented while some three hundred support and maintenance vehicles were badly damaged.  For Scott McCleary who usually manages around 125 losses per year, he was now faced with managing losses at 100 sites, each with multiple buildings, vehicles and problems.

Work started immediately on the most damaged sites, including Pioneer Elementary and the Sandra Day O’Connor High School, each of which had flooding damage.  Thanks to the prompt action of VSIT, no school days were missed due to the hail damage at any of the 115 campuses.  Critical to the team that would accomplish this and future storm inspections and repairs were Jeff Long, the Director of Facilities at the Deer Valley Unified School District and Jim Migliorino, the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for DVUSD; Edward Gillam, the Director of Facilities for Peoria Unified School District and Michael Finn the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for PUSD; and Cole Morris, the Director of Facilities for Paradise Valley Unified School District and Tom Elliott, the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for PVUSD.


VSEBT Posts Successful Year

10 Jun

The following is an update letter sent out to members of Valley Schools, which include the Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT), the Valley Schools Workers’ Compensation Pool (VSWCP) and the Valley Schools Insurance Trust (VSIT).  Tom Boone is the Chairman and CEO.  Congratulations on another outstanding year to the Valley Schools’ team!

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Dear Member,

Let me start out by saying that we appreciate having you as a continuing member in Valley Schools. The following are some recent events at Valley Schools that may be of interest to you:

  • Valley Schools is constantly negotiating with all our providers to save you money on insurance. As a result, effective July 1, 2013, we changed our life insurance carrier to ING. This change saved 21% off basic life insurance rates for all members and includes a three-year rate guarantee. We also changed our Pharmacy Benefits Manager (PBM) to UHC/OptumRX which should result in a reduction of pharmacy costs of about 2%.
  • The audits for 2012 are complete and we have received an unqualified opinion. An unqualified opinion is the best possible audit outcome, meaning that there are no areas for concern, comment or revision. Since Valley Schools started in 1987, we have had unqualified opinions on all audits, every year. We are proud of our 25 years of clean audit findings. The 2012 audit reports were recently sent to all members.
  • National healthcare policy is changing rapidly and dramatically. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) passed in 2010 changes nearly every aspect of health delivery in the country. Valley Schools is committed to keeping our members informed and ready for this shifting regulatory landscape. We are providing quarterly briefings for all members to review all aspects of PPACA. We would strongly encourage your human resources, employee benefits staff, or others you may want to participate, to attend these meetings.
  • Again, for the 2013-14 fiscal year, Valley Schools had 100% retention of all current members. In addition, we welcome the Madison Elementary School District as a new member for FY 2013-14.

You should have already received a copy of our audit results. I am available to you at any time should you have any questions. All of our board meetings are posted and we encourage you to attend when your schedule allows it.


Tom Boone



Tom Boone, Chairman and CEO, Valley Schools

VSIT Scores High Marks With Reinsurers

19 Feb

The Valley Schools Insurance Trust (VSIT) provides liability insurance to several large employers in the valley including very large school districts.  Each year they are audited by several folks, including an independent audit and evaluation of reserves for liability.  Once again, VSIT has passed with flying colors without any defects and with substantially more reserves than required.  This program has saved each of its member employers around $1 million per year in premiums due to risk management, aggressive claims management, investigations and damage mitigation.  As part of the trust, reinsurance is purchased to limit maximum liability per claim.  The outstanding work of Tom Bock, Administrator for VSIT, has resulted in a high level of confidence in reinsurers.  As they evaluate the financials, operations and expertise at the trust, they give it their highest ratings, resulting in lower costs for members.  Outstanding job VSIT!


Want to know more?  You can see more about them at:


Or contact Tom Bock or Sheri Gilbert at 623-594-4370 for more information.

Sheri Gilbert, Director of Marketing and Business Development

Sheri Gilbert, Director of Marketing and Business Development

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PUSD’s Denton Santarelli receives Arizona Superintendent of the Year award

18 Dec

Congratulations to Denton Santarelli, the staff of Peoria Unified School District, and the students who worked hard to make this achievement!

PUSD’s Denton Santarelli receives Arizona Superintendent of the Year award

Peoria Unified School District Superintendent Denton Santarelli has been named All Arizona Superintendent of the Year for large districts by the Arizona School Administrators (ASA) Association.

The award was presented at the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) Conference 11:30 a.m. Dec. 13 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort.

“With more than 31 years in public education, you will find no greater champion for students, parents or staff than Dr. Santarelli,” said Peoria Unified Governing Board President Hal Borhauer. “The district’s more than 36,000 students and nearly 4,000 employees are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Santarelli’s leadership and vision in shaping the future of education in the Northwest Valley. We are honored that his leadership and vision have been recognized by other professionals in Arizona.”

To further propel student preparedness for college and careers, Santarelli is spearheading the district’s efforts on the United States Department of Education’s Race to the Top District Competition, of which Peoria Unified was recently named a finalist. Under his leadership, Peoria Unified has been labeled an “A” District by the Arizona Department of Education, has a 93 percent high school graduation rate and was the first district in the state to receive international AdvancED Accreditation.

Arizona School Administrators Inc. is a non-profit corporation organized to promote the best interests of education in the state of Arizona. ASA works to advance the roles of administrative leaders by providing training and support services for its membership. The organization attracts talented individuals to the field and disseminates research related to current education issues. Its membership serves as a voice in the legislature, in their communities, and in other organizations promoting educational improvements that benefit students and schools.

Balsz School District blazes trail for success story of more class time

10 Dec

Balsz School District blazes trail for success story of more class time

Posted: Dec 03, 2012 4:40 PMUpdated: Dec 08, 2012 4:40 PM

PHOENIX -Do kids do better in school if they spend more time in class? School officials in five states think so. They’re following the lead of a school district in Phoenix that’s already doing it — and it’s paying off.Schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee are adding 300 hours of time to the school year.

The Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix extended its school year four years ago. It’s now a model for the rest of the country.

This is Beth Lewis’ 6th grade class at Griffith Elementary School, located near 44th Street and McDowell in Phoenix.

They’re working on math.

“We are doing percents, how to figure out percents from numbers that don’t equal one hundred,” says student Colynn Harvey.

Most students go to school 180 days a year. These students go 200 days. 20 more days — that’s four full school weeks.

“I like it because we have more days to learn,” says student Ben Denton.

“Do you ever feel like you aren’t getting enough of a vacation?” we asked.


Teachers say more school pays off.

“I remember being young and getting back into school and there were so many cobwebs in my head,” says teacher Beth Lewis. “I think with the 6-week summer there is not a lot of time to forget.”

Four years ago Balsz School District was an under performing school district, but then came the changes and the expanded calendar, and since then the situation has improved dramatically. The schools district-wide got a B grade, and Griffith Elementary got an A.

Balsz has blazed a trail for other school districts.

“We are very proud of having made that bold move for our community which has embraced this opportunity for extra learning,” says Chris Canelake, Balsz School District.

Teachers in the district are paid a little more to work the extra days.

They like the program. They say it keeps kids busy and they learn better and more consistently than they do in summer school.

Healthcare Planning Done Right!

4 Dec

In today’s healthcare market, with so many changes and the impacts of National Healthcare Reform unclear, it is important for every organization to have proper healthcare planning.  Unfortunately, for most employers, even larger ones, healthcare is something looked at only during renewal time.  Valley Schools Management Group (VSMG) in conjunction with their consultant, Aon/Hewitt, provide annual healthcare planning sessions with the leaders of all their employer organizations.  These include the top executives and the human resource officials so that they can be informed at all times of where healthcare is going, and how to plan for it.  VSMG plans and implements for change on a regular basis for its members, but does not view that as enough.  ”We need to make sure all our members stay informed of our efforts, understand the reason for staying ahead of the curve, and approve of the direction we are leading,” said Tom Boone, Chairman and CEO of VSMG.

Tom Boone, VSMG

Tom Boone, VSMG

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Attached here is one such document provided to their members to keep them informed of the ongoing processes at VSMG:

Scottsdale schools look to harness Sun Power

27 Nov
Scottsdale schools look to harness Sun Power  

By Brett Nachman
Independent Correspondent

Four Scottsdale high school students “soaked up the sun” during their fall break to participate in the SunPower Solar Science Academy — a week-long program aimed to educate students on the benefits of solar energy implementation.

Scottsdale Unified School District is the only district in Arizona to participate in this one-of-a-kind initiative.

Five other school districts in California have been involved as well, SUSD officials say.

The quartet of Saguaro and Coronado students to partake in this program included Taylor Clark, Carlos Mora, Jessica Norman and Abraham Ramirez.

The students, at the Nov. 20 SUSD governing board meeting, shared information on solar power and their experiences during the project.

Dr. Karen Benson, SUSD director of curriculum, said that the collaboration with the SunPower Corp. involved “the agreement that we would allow students to showcase their learning in front of our governing board members.”

Dr. Benson recognized SUSD coordinators Chris Brandt and Janey Kaufmann for the “many hours they put in,” as well as “superstar” lead teachers Susan Lindberg and Erika Mills.

The students developed Galileo Systems, a fictional company, and assumed roles within this project.

They discussed the potential of solar power, as well as the progress SUSD has made in embracing this energy.

“Making energy resolve around the sun” represented the slogan of their presentation.

Mr. Mora spoke to the scientific process of converting sunlight into electricity.

Meanwhile, his colleague, Ms. Clark, informed the audience that “enough sunlight falls to Earth every hour to meet our world’s energy demand for an entire year.”

The students shared that solar energy can be incorporated at a household level, as their project partially focused around determining the cost and energy savings of a sample home.

Their example, showcasing a house boasting a south-facing view, 34-degree-angle roof and no foliage obstructions, could save approximately 11,000 pounds of carbon dioxide gas emissions from being released each year.

“Let’s face it, we get a lot of sun here,” joked Mr. Ramirez.

Mr. Ramirez said he advocates solar power because of it being “more eco-friendly, safer, cheaper, more productive and just plain more basic compared to other energy sources.”

This project ties to SUSD’s real-life utilization of solar energy.

The district recently applied the Qualified School Conservation Bond to partner with SunPower and equip 11 of its 33 schools with solar panels.

These newly-installed systems can be found on SUSD school rooftops and on parking lot shading structures.

“QSCB allows companies that wish to reduce energy consumption in public buildings to have bonds to help pay for the expenditure,” said Mr. Ramirez.

This natural form of energy is expected to save Scottsdale schools electricity costs around $25 million in the next 25 years, a May press release states.

During the Solar Science Academy, these students discussed strategies on integrating solar energy into the community, even gaining firsthand experience via taking field trips to various businesses.

Ms. Norman said they visited Stara Technologies in Glendale, which tests solar panels for usage in the military.

The students said they enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the program and better appreciate this form of technology.

“My grandfather tried to promote solar panels 20 years ago, which wasn’t cost-effective then,” said Ms. Norman.

Ms. Norman said she participated in the camp to remember her late grandfather, “but also to increase my knowledge of solar technology and how to improve my lifestyle.”

Mr. Ramirez said he was “oblivious” to this subject matter beforehand, but benefits from having been a part of the SunPower Solar Science Academy.

Mr. Mora attained “business and team management skills” from working on the project with his fellow students.

“I learned lessons on cleaner living that will carry with me for the rest of my life,” said Ms. Clark.

Editor’s note: Mr. Nachman is participating in the Independent Newmsedia’s correspondent program

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