Arizona governor’s budget offers bare bones that will bear no fat

Between the governor’s budget and policymakers’ statements, one would think public school districts are flunking money management. They cite percentages of budgets not spent in the classroom, usually accompanied by intimations that non-classroom funding is superfluous.

James P. Lee

James P. Lee

What constitutes classroom versus non-classroom dollars?

The former: teachers, aides, contracted instructional services, athletic coaches, books, software, supplies, and various extracurricular activities. Everything else, from counselors and nurses to heating and cooling to food service and instructional support to transportation, is classified as non-classroom spending.

And, what does non-classroom spending look like? As an example, PVSchools administration costs comprise 7.7 percent of our operating budget, translating to $567 per student compared to the state average of $746; at $1,138, the national average comes in more than twice that spent in PVSchools.

Anne Greenberg

Anne Greenberg

Over the past several years, Arizona school districts have been decimated by cuts to education. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports Arizona is the national leader in per-pupil cuts (21.8 percent) from fiscal years 2008-2013.

The National Education Association released their 2014 report, ranking Arizona last for per-student funding. Our current per-pupil funding is still more than $1,000 less per student than it was in 2008.

That means school districts have had to make do with less even as we continue to transport students, keep them cool in the Arizona heat, and ensure they learn in safe environments. Non-classroom spending does not mean nonessential spending.

These issues likely would be minimized if districts had been receiving voter-mandated inflationary funding. We have not, and the courts have ruled the bill is due — $330 million immediately.

Legislators continue to fight that decision, while insisting that school districts can operate more efficiently with the shrinking dollars received.  The numbers show we are running efficiently; we can only operate more cheaply by piling more students into already crowded classrooms and depriving them of needed resources and programs.

The governor’s budget increases base aid less than one-quarter of the court-ordered amount, and in a “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario, he recommends eliminating district Additional Assistance and Student Success funds plus moving spending — not funding — from non-classroom into classroom areas.

If approved, PV Schools will be required to cut $4.1 million from maintenance, transportation, health services, security, and other crucial areas that support teachers and students in the classroom no matter how the pie is sliced, districts remain well below 2008 funding levels, while we struggle to pay 2015 costs.

Inadequate funding for Arizona school districts has placed students at a significant disadvantage to counterparts in states that have prioritized education funding. This specifically resulted in overflowing classrooms, teacher shortages and limited resources.

We all agree that public funds for education must be spent wisely and in the best interest of students. Taking this responsibility very seriously, PV Schools steadfastly streamlines operations, keeping our core mission of educating students at the heart of all we do.

The overall budget for public education has not kept up with inflation; neither have teacher salaries. We should be alarmed that we stand on the brink of a catastrophic teacher shortage certain to stifle education across this state and jeopardize the very soul of our current and future economic engine – our children.

We urge you to contact your legislators to voice your concerns about public education funding.  Also, if you email AAH@expectmorearizona.org, Expect More Arizona will create an account on your behalf for the legislature’s Request to Speak system where you can leave comments on proposed bills.

Editor’s note: Dr. Lee is the superintendent and Ms. Greenberg is the governing board president of the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

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