Arizona Public School Re-Districting Misses Point

by Gayle Plato-Besley, M. Ed.

The Arizona Republic published a story regarding school districts and the restructuring of the local governing bodies: ”The report submitted Friday by the Arizona School District Redistricting Commission would affect more than 330,000 Arizona students. Twenty-seven districts would replace the existing 76 elementary and high-school districts, eliminating 49 districts of the state’s 227.”  ( )

The proposal slated for a November ballot, was submitted to Governor Janet Napolitano purely in an informational capacity.  Unfortunately, the real solution is missing from the report.  Centralization of administration not all programming in districts, would alleviate at least 5% of districts’ budgets without losing all local decision making.

District Administrators including Superintendents, Fiscal Administrators, their support staff, and most importantly principals and assistant principals make up approximately 9-10% of each school district’s budget. (  Yet, ask any teacher, and you will hear that school site administrators are pulled out of the schools they manage up to half of the school week for district-based meetings of budget, maintenance and operations, and overall district business.  This includes strategy sessions to hook voters regarding budgets, bonds, and tax expenditures.

We, as citizens, remember principals from a child’s perspective.  Like Bart Simpson duping Principal Skinner, we do not know exactly what the average administrator does.  The job is grueling and maybe a bit redundant.  In addition to the management of the individual school including all discipline, parental concerns, classroom function, local testing and student achievement, there is the daily budgetary challenge.  The day begins at sunrise and often does not end until well past sundown.  Meetings are endless and more and more administrators are pulled farther from the children they are there to help.

The good administrators are out with the kids as much as possible, and the bad one are ghosts on campus only known by the troubled few.  School administrative assistants, registrars, and office receptionists are the life blood of the school.  Disciplined children are plopped down at their desks while everyone waits for the administrators to ‘get back from a meeting’.  If a teacher has a regular history of office referrals, he or she is professionally dinged as not managing the class. Reality is, most projects pulling the principals away could be reassigned.  A central hub of a few district administrators makes more sense. 

Battle of the Bulge

Corporate America learned years ago- get lean.  Many managerial and administrative positions were scrutinized and consolidated.  Once better defined, certain jobs were subcontracted and accountability became the key to good contract work.  Education could take a lesson from the likes of former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch. Famous for his basic advice, Welch says, simplicity, self-confidence, and speed are the key principles of success in business. He’s also stated, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

Governmental agencies are adapting, and are successfully cutting budgets.  Contracting jobs  can work when there are clear goals and monitored activity, leading to more efficiency. If each hour is billable and the contractor knows his company can be booted for poor performance, the job gets done.   But how can education adapt?  I read a very telling piece put out by the National Education Association (NEA) stating the evils of contracting and capitalism.  Here is an excerpt:

“These forces, combined with support services contracting, amount to an attempted private sector takeover of the entire system of public education. If these forces were allowed to continue unabated, one could imagine a system of public education where nearly all administrative, teaching, support, and even cultural functions would be controlled by private companies, reducing the role of elected school boards to glorified contract administrators. Clearly, this prospect gives new and deeper meaning to the term ‘privatization.’” 

That quote sums it all up.  Scare the public into believing that private contracting will take over all political control and eliminate the school board and citizen choice.  Either education must face trimming of administrative and support costs or become the dinosaurs- extinct.

Eliminate Redundant Administrators
:  One per school who stays at the school, managing school issues directly related to educating the children.  Create a liaison to the district superintendent; this liaison conveys school needs and manages legal, maintenance and operations, and unusual challenges of personnel or parental concern. If there was one liaison per 3-6 schools, coordinating testing issues, funneling legal concerns, communicating specific budgetary needs and wants, and attending all of the meetings related to his region, the one principal is free to do his job properly.  

Get rid of multiple assistant principals doing the site-based work.  One principal is plenty and it’s a much more rewarding job to be at the school helping children, parents, and teachers. 

Contract all Social Services-
I am a school counselor with years of experience and I can attest to the misuse of this role.  No one in administration seems to grasp the job.  Short-term solution focused counseling offered on site is a great idea, but when the counselor is pulled in to do discipline or even scheduling, the role is watered down and the trust between child, parent and educator is limited.  Social Workers and Counselors are best an outsider to the system as the job is one of child advocate.  Without be-laboring the point, there is a clear trend toward this and it helps offer good programming on the parents’ schedules too: evening sessions for family or child counseling.  All coordination of services can be done too with a representative attending any meeting needed just like any contractor would do per definition of the services.

Avoid Hiring Consultants:
Nothing frustrates parents and voters more than a misappropriation of funds then followed by a committee to study said misuse, only then to determine that a consultant is needed to review why the whole mess started.  Buck Passing 101- all on the tax dollar’s dime.  Select a Jury of Peers including a community quorum.  QUORUM is the key word as one guy who owns a business in town with a desire to run for office is NOT a good representative of the community.

Does the lean approach really work in education:

School Nurses have all but been eliminated in many districts; one or two RNs oversee the local site staff.  When it all began, this budget cut scared the band-aids out of educators and nurses alike.  Scary news stories of how kids would be dying on the playground surfaced. Yet, the system generally works and  health service budgets are leaner.  The key, once again, is a health office assistant at every school trained and monitored by an administrative school nurse.  It isn’t easy but it is fiscally sound. Especially since very little medical care can be administered by a school official anyway.  Standard rule is always call 911 regardless if it is done by a nurse or not. Schools cannot treat nor prescribe anything. Many larger schools in high need areas are housing private health clinics too. All without much complication.  

NEA fears change and revision of bureaucracy, and outsourcing is the bane of many an educator.  It implies the public educator is a peripheral dinosaur.   Simply put, the NEA needs to get over the fact that this is a Capitalist society.  School Districts are not  socialist, commune-like villages.  Schools need to reflect society with success based on the American Dream: small business, corporate structure and competition. 

About the author: Gayle PLato-Besley, 43, is a writer, social studies teacher, and certified counselor with over 19 years experience working with children and families. Her experience includes work as a school counselor in local school districts, private practice, and a secondary level teacher of U.S. Government, Economics, and History. Gayle’s writing has been featured in the Arizona Republic, the Sonoran News, AZNET News, and the Foothills Focus. Her blog,, covers  a variety of political topics.




  1. The Commission missed several points.

    1)The one size fits all approach to reform is no more beneficial to improved educational opportunity than the current one size fits a few approach.

    2)The continued erosion of local control will not promote innovation but eliminate competition and effectively limit parental choice.

    3)The amount of time and reflective dollars spent on fed/state mandated programs and reports could be well-used on site and district efforts with something to show for it beyond a bar graph.

    4)How are we to believe this had anything to do with improved classroom experience when recommendations where so random and opposed to the very criteria the Commission was to use? Imposing the debt of schools in receivership onto other districts should be criminal and not even a topic of consideration, yet the Commission voted to do just that…twice. To consolidate the entire PUHSD with all the feeder districts, effectively creating a huge bureaucratic conglomerate, is the antithesis of all data on well managed schools from both a fiscal and achievement perspective.

    To say it is just a recommendation and the voters should have their day is not exactly a true representation of the situation. The affected districts will be forced to have this election and those districts, not the state, will pay for it. The cost to each district will be approximately the salary of 2 classroom teachers per district, if not more. Add that up and ask yourself just who is served?

  2. Interesting comment Ann and thank you. My constructive criticism is this: 95% of what you said doesn’t relate to what I wrote. You complaint is with the original report and on that, you’re singin’ to the choir as it were.

    You comment #2 is a critical point. But is rings of the fear based thinking I noted. Local Districts CAN OUTSOURCE without losing any control. IF each district would rethink the whole thing, and lean down, they will not need to consolidate in the first place. Small districts are already doing just this with Special Education They all farm our School Psychology, and certain OT/PT and other therapists as needed. Some districts are now contracting Physical Education too as the insurance costs are huge for PE.

    The scare tactic that if we privatize we lose control is ridiculous. DO employers lose their business when they contract out human resources or technology?

    Businesses and schools lose control when they consolidate with other like businesses or schools. Then, they make the mistake to set up a huge central hub. THAT is when smaller groups lose control. Centralized control is always off and it is not what I discussed. I recommended a webbing approach with strong links to a lean center. What you are noting as bad (and I agree) is a wheel set up–a central component of any socialized program– with weak spokes depending on the center core for strength. That is not a good way.–Gayle

  3. I appreciate your kind way of noting my own take on the whole shebang. I led into it with the “they missed a lot” as a way of moving toward my own dissatisfaction. I cannot believe so many conservatives, who should be the first ones to stand up for local control and choice, have given in to the anecdotal statements and ignored the reality of mountains of evidence showing this will not save a dime and may very well increase non-classroom costs for the very reasons you outlined. Bigger is not better.

    You are absolutely right, the things that can be centralized should be, leaving the skill and ability of many highly qualified educators to concentrate on other things. I will say there are some things that I do not like to outsource and they tend to be the things most commonly procured; food services, maintenance, and transportation. Having been in big private business and a couple of mid-sized school districts, in both I found there was a distinct loss of the pride of ownership in those areas when outsourced. In my experience, costs are more closely controlled when there is greater choice in the delivery of services rather than a contracted amount.

    Your reference to special ed services is an absolute area of opportunity. Occupational, Speech and Physical Therapies with a centralized provider would be a huge advantage over the current system, with the local school maintaining the IEP. LRE issues are avoided that can become cumbersome with IGA’s.

    Interestingly enough, there were districts that showed a consolidated effort involving the protocol you described; they were ignored. Anyone who uses more than anecdotal evidence realizes this is not a good thing in most districts, but if you look at the long term secondary assessed valuation of APS, you might find something worth looking at.

  4. Thanks Ann- Your knowledge of the specifics is beyond mine as you’ve a better knowledge of the details in the report. Even after writing my piece, I thought, the whole centralization of anything is a slippery slope. It is more about eliminating anything redundant. All of it in an effort to save the local control. I appreciate your take! Thanks again for the thought provoking information. I want to read more of your work!! GPB

  5. nightcrawler says

    The centralization of certain tasks need not result in the loss of control within individual schools and/or districts. Set aside the low hanging fruit of teachers and principals and focus on the operational end. Purchasing, transportation and food service. Those functions lend themselves nicely to the franchise foremat. It makes absolutely no sense to continually reinvent the wheel. Economies of scale and efficiencies are there for the taking. As for special ed, I beg to differ. A lot of those students need continuity and teacher-student relationships do matter. Substituting permanent seasoned long tenured professionals for competent, yet portable consultants in this area is not in the best interest of the student who is least likely to cope with change.

  6. Buddy Breon says

    The entire project will amount to a waste of taxpayer money for committee reports and supportive studies and for the elections. They will go down in flames – if for no other reason than no one wants to lose their community school system. The entire program was designed to save money, at local loss of control, and not one cent can be factually accounted for as a savings.

    Face it, I would rather be a parent seeking governing board support for an issue in Baltz School District than a parent seeking support from a new Phoenix Unified district. It’s just more likely to be successful when you know your school board members.

    On top of that, the cost impact to homeowners in some districts is simply not known or understood.

    While the long dissertation on education is a wonderful example of education guess work, there were no examples of where and how such centralized principalships actually work. In any company, the local general manager spends a lot of time out of the plant in company local, regional, and national meetings. It’s part of the job. Except for a quote or two from GE’s former exec, there are no concrete examples of what has worked. Only rhetoric.

    Don’t get me wrong, I will admit that an above average principal, with dedicated teachers and supportive parents, can make a local difference, such an argument would mean more with specifics.

    Bashing the NEA with this message is a nice shot at fish in a barrel, but the NEA is not the problem with administration. The problem with administrators is that they come from the NEA ranks, and if they depart from the philosophy they get booted out of town, as happened at Phoenix Union. Teacher unions have nothing to do with school district size.

    “Schools need to reflect society with success based on the American Dream: small business, corporate structure and competition.” Sounds to me like a good description of charter school potential and smaller school districts (not larger).

    Public schools, however, are not small businesses or even big businesses. They are government agencies bound by restrictive rules and regulations and must provide defined services to everyone who enters the premises despite funding challenges. That’s a whole different ballgame.

  7. Nightcrawler,

    My reference to special ed was in ancillary services that are often hard to get and very expensive. I do not like the contract services provided by transportation and food services, the reasons are not so scientific as they are experiential. This is strictly my opinion and not anything profound; by using district employees for food services and transportation it is possible to bring them to a shared ownership of the resulting product. Promote shared decision-making, hire one person to perform more than one job making them a full time employee to allow benefits to be paid, and other local decisions makes for happier more productive employees and less turnover. Training in those areas is very costly and it is passed on to the user in contracted services.


    Interestingly, the AG reports that union high school districts and elementary district on average spend less on administration than unified districts. Now there’s some hard data but it was not valued because it didn’t meet the desired end…unify at any costs to the taxpayers and any loss to the children.

    I have such a hard time understanding why so many conservatives love to bash public education and are blind to the anti-conservative action behind this effort. The, limits on individual choice, the imposition of taxation without representation
    (Districts will be forced to accept the debt of other entities). It is so big government, circumvents the will of the people, and imposes costs they did not ask for or want. It was the brainchild of conservative legislators, not APS, based on a disregard for the ability of anyone beyond the 90 downtown to think and act reasonably.

    The cost of the elections has to be paid by the school districts, not the state, despite the outcome. So, for instance, if a district holds the election and it fails, they must pay about $45,000 or more out of their operation budget, the same budget that pays for teachers and electricity. Instead of increasing dollars to the classroom it will take them away.

  8. I wrote a point poorly:

    1)Centralize administration WITHIN the local district itself. Why does a small to medium size district need more than one administrator per building? It is because those admins are expected to do jobs of the central office like PR, getting voters in, and over managing budgets. Quit pulling the principals out of the building!

    2)Stop the layers of bureaucracy: there are way too many meetings and sessions to discuss meetings. School Council meetings are hours long and that is not serving the community members at all. It is the way to discourage the average parent or community member from attending.

    3) Why aren’t school districts run like businesses? The comment that they are not businesses is very telling. I see teachers who forget that the client is the student and the parent. I know principals who are notorious for not returning calls, administrators who feel it is okay to hire consultants to review what is staring themin the face- all because they are comfortable with mediocracy. Behavior like this would not work in any successful company. The NEA is NOT trying to help school districts flourish; they see the teachers as soldiers of communal think tanking and all of the ‘civilian’ outsiders as the enemy. Try and be a conservative educator in a sea of liberal fundamentalist union teachers–been there, done that. It wasn’t pretty. Arizona is still a Right to Work state with a chance to revolutionize the way districts function.

  9. What a nice article! I am so pleased you thought to share it.

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