April 1, 2005
Republicans say they want to take money away from education bureaucrats and give it to classrooms. But their plan would also cut funding for librarians, nurses, counselors and other jobs that directly affect children.
Republican leaders on Thursday proposed a referendum for the November 2006 ballot that would force school districts to shift "nonclassroom" funds to the classroom — at least 65 cents of each dollar. Arizona’s schools average 59 cents per dollar in classroom spending. The national average is 61.5 cents.
Debate at the state Capitol will begin as early as Monday.
Nonclassroom expenses include money spent on student support services, such as psychologists and speech pathologists, as well as air conditioning, bus routes and teacher training.
Campus police officers, drug intervention and dropout prevention programs, food service, transportation and lawn care also fall outside the definition of classroom expenses. So do fulltime therapists for severely disabled children.
Television commercials that will start Sunday in support of the referendum will target top school administrators with big salaries: Assistant superintendents, curriculum specialists and program directors.
"That’s where the money is getting soaked up into the education system," Arizona Republican National Committeeman Randy Pullen said.
He joined Senate President Ken Bennett, RPrescott, House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne at a news conference Thursday to announce the referendum drive.
"It’s not how much you spend," Pullen said. "It’s where you spend the money that matters."
John Wright, president of the the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, disagreed.
"Moving money around in an underfunded system does not change the system," he said.
School business officials also challenged the notion that districts waste too much money on administrators.
Jill Benza, director of business and support services in the Mesa Unified School District, said her district would save only 0.3 percent of its budget for use in the classroom if the governing board fired its superintendent, all eight assistant and associate superintendents and their secretaries.
"Mesa supports putting dollars in the classroom," Benza said. "That’s our mission — to educate children."
But she said operating a district with 11,000 employees and 76,000 students costs money.
Jeff Simmons, director of budget and finance in the Tempe Union High School District, said lawmakers who demand that districts spend more in the classroom also require that districts manage an increasing amount of government paperwork.
For example, he said the state’s emergency $10 million grant approved in January for tutoring of students who failed Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards,did not include money for administration. Yet the grant included specific requirements for districts to track hours, personnel, student participation and lesson topics.
Percent of funding East Valley school districts spend in the classroom for teachers’ salaries and textbooks.
Kyrene Elementary 64.4%
Gilbert Unified 64.3
Scottsdale Unified 63.7
Chandler Unified 63.6
Mesa Unified 63.1
Paradise Valley Unified 61.8
National average 61.5
Higley Unified 59.9
State average 58.6
Tempe Union High 58.6
Cave Creek Unified 57.2
Tempe Elementary 56.3
Apache Junction Unified 55.2
Fountain Hills Unifed 53.9
Queen Creek Unified 52.7
SOURCE: Arizona Office of the Auditor General TRIBUNE