Education Budget Scare Can Be Righted

by Gayle Plato, M. Ed.

Governor Brewer has drawn the line in the sand, veto pen marking right over the agreement, going right to left on the page of the budget presented. While I am impressed with her chutzpah, I am also convinced she’s bluffing. The Honorable Governor Brewer has my respect, but I disagree with the poker game. Any legislator coming back in on Monday, I say this as a conservative, a voter, a small business owner, a mom, a teacher- play hard ball and offer not one more dime. Shut the engine off, close up the windows on this tax vehicle and let the inside just cook in its own juices. Have the guts, like you did all the way through, and let the budget go down undone.

Republican members of the legislature have been met by complaints and leftist rhetoric this entire year. As I wrote a few days ago, social agencies and bratty union leaders did not one thing to work the problem. This budget demise was no mystery, and all constituents have been very clear: NO NEW TAXES.

Either you stand up now or forever regret it, and we see the Californication of our economy.

This is not a game: this town, this state is already redlined and the citizens cannot front the costs of rigged up programs. It’s easy to say education is going to suffer and pretend that all of the children are ‘being left behind’, but that is a lie. Where were all of you who love the kids six months ago?

If every district were to agree to eliminate 200,000-500,000 dollars from its budgets, would we not fix this mess? That amount is approximately five administrators. School administrators conservatively make about 75-100K a year in most school systems. I know some are less, but the point is valid. I propose this, much like Russell Pearce and others were trying to note, ask the districts to cut more. Here is a simple idea in brief:

All School Districts Eliminate Assistant Principals.

Take a portion of those salaries and offer three to five teachers per school, stipends of 5-10K a year as lead teachers. Many educators already hold administrative degrees and certificates; think of it as deputies under sheriffs. I not only know it will work, I also think it will HELP schools with better support for discipline and better on-site staffing of daily needs.

This ONE IDEA could save millions across the state, with very little impact to students. It will tailor quality administrative help at each school. As for the state monies, this is a matter of reworking the way the budget reads. Any statute can be rewritten and reconfigured based on a vote of the body. Do not tell me you cannot change the lines of the budget. You can.

Any teacher in the state can tell you of the thankless job, and overworked reality of most principals. They are managers of small business, out doing public relations, attending endless meetings, and often pulled out of the schools. Principals can be gone more than 50% of the time some weeks. Any parent reading this, have you gone into the school impromptu, only to be told the principal or assistant principal is out of the building? Most principals would rather be in the school working with kids and teachers, helping families see successful students.

This budget demands innovation, not one more moment of rhetoric full of shell games, poker bluffs, and scare tactics. I am easy to find, and I’d willingly present my idea, taking the heat and complaint to  anyone anywhere. It will work and it is not complicated.

This veto situation is a HUGE CON and most of you voting are not teachers. You do not know the inside of the machine.

Have the guts to do this, and then invite all superintendents to a July meeting explaining how to streamline: Superintendents can offer pink slips to the extra staff, hug them and recommend they go back into the classroom, or look for a job in another field.

Please on Monday, members of the voting representation, stand up and JUST SAY NO to spending with a recommendation to districts of an emergency action plan. This is reality; districts are better off cutting administrators rather than teachers or programs with validity.

This is only one piece of a puzzle, but there are more options and we can make this work, cobbling together cuts that will take us through the year. NO, we cannot MAKE districts go forward with specific cuts, but we can mandate general cuts based on district size.  Then, recommendations can be made as to how this would work with suggested cuts of administration.

All agencies must face the reality that there is no extra, no property tax base growth to tap, nor any more individual, sales, nor luxury tax that voters want.  We must change it today-

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

UPDATE 7/5/09- I looked up the administration at the secondary level  for Mesa Public schools, one of the largest districts in AZ. I counted 17 assistant principals for the junior and senior highs.  Assuming that’s about right, averaging 75K a year, cutting just the Mesa Assistant Principals would save $1,250,000. That’s conservative and not taking into account the benefits costs.

What if we also considered recommending all counseling services be contracted out for all schools?  I know this could be done, servicing  the community better, by offering on-site family services in the evenings and on weekends without costing the school.  Once again, save the state millions from the district level on up. What other programs could be subcontracted?

When most schools chose to quit funding a R.N.  in every health center, people were up in arms, but the policies were changed, support staff were trained, and schools adapted to a leaner system of in-school nursing programs. Noting is perfect, but problems can create better alternatives.

We cannot make any school line out positions, but the legislature can mandate cuts along with very detailed recommendations.  One drastic cut accompanied by very clear action planning might bring the line item veto up to par, and help soften the blow for the scared liberals and Governor.   If all social agencies face this reality, we might see BETTER, LEANER services statewide.


Comments

  1. Please understand I understand your premise…but again, the courage to stand firm was not in the lege when Janet was steamrolling them into overspending. Now we are supposed to take the hits they refused to protect us from?

    The do not get off so easy. They do not have the political will to do what is needed only what makes good political hay.

    The lege is no better than Janet if they refuse to admit they have not cut enough to get us to the black and we will continue to have this fight over and over again until they either cut more or raise taxes.

    I have not seen any of them offering to back off from the public trough, that is from where they feed, and take a pay cut for their 6-7 months a year job.

  2. Ann,
    Thanks for comment. I suspect others will say this is once again foolhardy or unimformed. I also know that the $$ difference from those line items vetoed and a few lay-offs per district is limited.

    I also know that if we do not face ANOTHER huge cost for public works beyond personnel–energy costs– we’re in for a huge hit across the board if Cap and Trade goes through the US Senate.
    Who will pay for the schools’ APS/SRP bill each August then? We have LOTS of options left and too many ppl trying to please the minority.

  3. There are about 230 school districts in the state. If each were to cut $500K this comes to $115 million about half of the proposed cuts. There will likely be mid-year cuts, and more cuts next year. So no, this idea would not fix this mess.

    I’m not a big fan of the sales tax route and I think there is a 50/50 chance it will be voted down but at the same time taxes have been continuously lowered over the past two decades so a tax increase would actually be a change in the trend, not a furtherance of it. Claiming this will lead to Arizona becoming like California is pure hyperbole unless you view everything in black and white. I also don’t see the outrage at the lege for shifting the tax burden from businesses to individuals, this should be a scandal.

    PS. I notice a great similarity between Gayle Plato and the famous Janet Contreras. Any idea of starting up a joint blog?

  4. Since you brought up utilities; how many parents/voters understand that the state has avoided funding the spiraling cost of utilities for years, putting it on the backs of local property owners. Over 30 years ago the excess utilities formula was developed; anything over a certain amount was paid for by a direct levy on the taxpayers of the district. Over the years of growth that amount has grown tremendously. Districts that saw huge growth in the last boom will be especially hard hit. Utilities in Arizona schools are not cheap.

    Prop 301, in a quid pro quo move, called for the sales tax increase but the elimination of the utility levy by 2009. Last year the legislature, understanding the millions it was cutting out of the M&O of schools and realizing the responsibilty of the state, funded it at 90%. That 90% was eliminated in the new budget.

    That leaves districts reallocating millions of dollars previously used for teacher salaries to pay the electric bill. Cap and trade? Blood from a turnip.

  5. This old English teacher couldn’t resist putting the quote at the end of this post into context. Brutus said it to Cassius toward the end of Julius Caesar. Brutus insists, over Cassius’ objections, that they attack the forces massing against them instead of seeking a stronger position. He makes his point nobly and philosophically, but he’s wrong. Cassius, against his better judgment, goes along with Brutus, they attack, and they’re wiped out.

    Shakespeare was making an ironic comment on the thinker, Brutus, employing his philosophy at a time when he should have listened to the calculating, grounded Cassius.

    So let the ideological conservatives ride the tide as you and Brutus suggest. But the results may not be what you hope for.

  6. Todd,

    Think about what you put in specifics that I referenced–one issue could free up 115 million— that’s just one idea. There ARE innovative ways to do this- and as I said, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Put this out there with more options and we are getting somewhere.

    Dave,
    Contextually there is a point to the irony though don’t you think? Either way, the quote on it’s own stands as a point of the time to act is now. All writing is in terms of the context, but quotes often highlight a stand alone position. Either way, nice to hear from one who knows it well 🙂

    As for the overall—

    This is NOT impossible, and including other program changes, maybe lottery money that currently goes to transportation or a new game entirely for education– we’d truly get this close! We could meet the Governor half way with my ONE POINT. Um, last I checked 115 million is not a small amount.

  7. kralmajales says

    So why not the tax increase right woman? For the most part, the sales tax (which is not my favorite either) will be spread out among millions of people, will be very little to pocket books. Its like a tax increase is incredible to you all..especially when most on this blog probably make less that $50K a year and wont be paying more than a couple hundred bucks or so…and that being a hundred bucks when most people in this country pay far far more. Your solution is to continue cutting into what has been cut over and over again. Todd is right…taxes have been cut and cut and cut here…by a right wing lege that has been in power for 44 years. Most of the time you have had the Governorship as well.

    So what is it that you have done right here? What? What about this govt that is completely controlled by your party should lead us to trust that this solution (continued cuts in education) will work, when it hasn’t in the past?

  8. CopperDome says

    Ann,

    First of all, about half of the current GOP legislators weren’t even in office for, or never voted for, ANY of the Napolitano budgets. Second, the GOP held J-NO in check as much as could be expected in 2005-06. If she had gotten her way, there would have been no tax cuts and no rainy-day fund deposits at all, with every bit of that money spent on new or expanded ongoing programs. Believe it or not, we would be about $2B MORE in the hole than we are now if the GOP hadn’t slowed J-No down. Lastly, without any Prop 105 reform, it isn’t POSSIBLE to cut the amount that would be necessary.

    Some conservatives will never, under any circumstances, vote to put the tax increase on the ballot UNLESS Prop 105 reform is tied directly to it because they realize the pitfall it creates. Even if the tax increase fails, providing a “mandate to cut,” without Prop 105 reform, it actually makes the situation worse. AHCCCS, with over 20% of state residents on board and billions in spending, is virtually off-limits. Truly massive cuts (dwarfing the cuts proposed so far) to education and public safety would be the only legal options left, and in an election year, no less. They refuse to vote for a “solution” that boxes them in this way.

    Sadly, Brewer isn’t shrewd enough to realize that she has been set up for failure by people who claim to support her but never really have, and never will. She has taken the bait, and even if she does exactly what they want, she will be too damaged to win a primary, which is exactly what they want. Some very smart legislators have tried to explain it to her, but she has made herself inaccessible to most legislators, especially without “support” staff (read: filter) there to “guide” the discussion.

    Brewer may not be responsible for creating the mess, but her total lack of leadership is by far the primary reason there is no feasible solution in sight.

  9. CD,

    No argument with you on the numbers now versus then or on the votes of those who were…but the lack of leadership and caucus control has never been what it should be. The rhetoric just doesn’t match up to the results now or then. If they were able to hold the line on some, where was the collective will to hold the line on more? This is not a singleton issue (meaning one or two leg’s that voted with the D’s) but a reflection of how little it takes to throw the whole thing off kilter and how desperately we need more than political posturing.

    I cannot honestly say that real leadership has been shown from the lege or the 9th floor. When the sweep of Science Foundation’s encumbered funds was promoted by a few senior members…that was the beginning of the battle. There are a lot of cocky folks who have no idea just what they put in motion and how it will all play out. When the law suits hit, and they will, the names of those who are culpable will be headlines…and not in a good way.

    There are companies just waiting to file suit against the state or pull out of here altogether. Someone needs to realize what a penny wise-pound foolish publicity stunt that was and back it off.

    BINGO on 105. Why, oh why, is that not the chip being played? Tell the voters…your votes have mandated a 7.5% annual increase, is that really what you want? And while we are at it, if you say yes, then better approve the next issue on the ballot, a tax increase, or expect EVERY other area that is legal to cut to be decimated according to the popular view.

  10. Ann,

    The reason the Republican legislature could not reign in Napolitano is the 2006 legislative elections. The entire focus of the state Republican Party was on getting Jon Kyl re-elected with almost no effort put into anything else during the general election. The legislature lost a lot of Republicans, so the Conservative Republican majority no longer existed. Before that election, Republican legislative leaders could negotiate with Napolitano from a position of strength and get most of what was important. After that, Napolitano could pick off a few liberal Republicans and essentially get a Democrat majority for what she wanted. As people like Jon Kyl point out, elections have consequences. In 2006 he was only thinking of his election, but there were also other election in Arizona that needed some attention as well.

    Regarding the education budget, education was over funded by about $200M per year for 5 years based on Education Department annual reports. School districts were building up financial reserves by that much over the last 5 reported years. Cutting $200M from education means just keeping their spending constant and not letting them build up any more rainy day funds. Given the inefficiency of most government operations, it is likely that an additional 10% could be cut without significantly impacting quality.

    In fact, if most public schools were converted to charter schools or the tax credit enacted by the Special Session of the state legislature were expanded to all students instead of just foster care and disable students, there could be very quick cuts. Quality might even go up.

    It would also be a good idea for the legislature to send a set of propositions to the ballot that would establish dedicated funding sources for any unfunded mandates already approved by voter propositions. The legislature should be under no obligation to fund those programs beyond what is raised by the dedicated funding source.

  11. WOW! I could write a book to either agree with or counter your post.

    The so-called rainy day fund, or budget balance carry-forward is a smart way to do business and is not building annually. There is a limit of 4% of the M&O that can be carried over, that is a tall order and rarely done. Given that school budgets are funded a year late, based on last years’ student count, the carry forward is the way to hire teachers or cover new costs while waiting for the full ADM to hit.

    I respect your views on charter, etc but I feel there is a higher responsibility to the public than just making things budget friendly. That is, of course, a priority but a Jeffersonian approach is more my cup of tea.

  12. NO matter what is said or done- the simple truth is that this line item routine needs to be countered with a slashing move, followed up with a strong statement by the Republican leadership. Direct it toward the districts and be very firm. You must face this, cut, and we will help you formulate action plans. But either way, there’s no more money. Do not let the Governor play games.

  13. Gayle-

    You write:

    “Take a portion of those salaries and offer three to five teachers per school, stipends of 5-10K a year as lead teachers. Many educators already hold administrative degrees and certificates; think of it as deputies under sheriffs. I not only know it will work, I also think it will HELP schools with better support for discipline and better on-site staffing of daily needs.”

    I am one of three assistant principals at a high school that has close to 2000 students. Discipline is only one of my responsibilities. Coordinating all testing (AIMS, Terra Nova, Advanced Placement, MAP), building and maintaining the master schedule, overseeing several academic departments, dealing with a myriad of student attendance issues, evaluating close to 30 teachers and oversight of special education are just SOME of my other duties. My two colleagues have their own long list of responsibilities that do not merely involve discipline.

    Teachers at our school, thanks to decisions already made by the Legislature, will have class sizes in the mid to high 30’s next year. Grading, planning and everything else associated with their jobs will consume all their time at school, as well as many hours at home every night. They have neither the time nor the inclination to also take on the jobs assigned to administrators, especially for the paltry sum you propose. Moreover, there are simply not enough potential “lead teachers” with the required credentials you cite to take on all these tasks. Looking just at discipline, an incident involving drugs, alcohol or fighting can take up much of the day for the administrator dealing with the matter.

    Your proposal is made with good intentions, I am sure, but talk to people in middle and high schools about the practical, day to day implementation of your idea and you will see that it is doomed to failure. A better course would be for the Legislature to realistically appraise the costs of funding public schools in the second-fastest growing state in the nation. While I agree that public schools need to be part of the solution in dealing with our current deficit, the reason that red ink exists has very little to do with how we do our jobs. Had Arizona’s leaders been more practical, less ideological and more future-oriented when crafting budgetary and tax policy, we would not be in this situation…and, by the way, I agree that Janet Napolitano, in her attempt to be all things to all people, was part of that problem.

  14. Ann,

    There is a statuatory 4% limit, but the school districts went over it. The amounts are documented in Education Department Annual Reports that are available on-line.

    In addition to charters and vouchers (in whatever form is needed to keep them constitutional) being budget friendly, they increase accountability to parents and provide alternatives instead of subjecting parents and students to a government monopoly. That will lead to higher quality and lower prices just as it does in any other industry.

  15. Rex-
    I’ve been the second or third in command of schools, elementary – high school; I know it would be a big change, but in truth, your job is extrmely taxing and better spread over three to five ppl paid half as much. It isn’t personal Rex, I also mentioned counseling could be farmed out, and that is my area.
    The Lege can’t MAKE schools do it– I recommend based on a need to re-invent the wheel of educational services.

    All social service industry is top-heavy, designed as at-risk spending. Resiliency is the new black, and helping those in need is deeply in the red.

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