Is the third time the charm?
That’s what many Gilbert residents wonder.
For the last couple of elections, Gilbert voters have turned down an override that would have maintained current programs and staffing.
As a result, the district has slowly bled funding and staff and programs over the last three years, as the existing override ended.
That loss accounts for about $18 million a year in funding for the schools. So, gifted programs for elementary schools have been diminished, staff positions have been lost, class sizes have grown, and salaries for teachers, school administrators and support staff have fallen further and further behind neighboring districts. Which has meant more and more administrators and teachers have left GPS for higher pay in districts like Chandler and Mesa.
This year alone, almost 250 certified staff have resigned from Gilbert, adding to the almost 200 who left last year.
Of course, there are many reasons for leaving, but pay is one of the most significant.
Last year, the board majority voted against having an override, meaning that the district would suffer even greater cuts this year.
So when an election changed the makeup of the board, the new majority — Jill Humpherys, Charles Santa Cruz, and Lily Tram — voted to put an override on the ballot for November.
One other board member, Julie Smith, said she would vote for the override with one stipulation — that 100 percent of the funding goes to the classroom. And if it didn’t, she stipulated, the board would fire the superintendent and the board members would resign.
A convenient way to vote no. Of course, no one can say that 100 percent would go to the classroom, so in giving that ultimatum, Mrs. Smith essentially gave herself an out, an easy way to say, “Well, since you won’t go along with me, I have no choice but to vote no.”
Her ultimatum, though, ignores one salient point: That she, along with the other board members, ultimately decides how money is spent. The other member to vote against the election, Daryl Colvin, had a typically convoluted rationale for his decision.
Mr. Colvin apparently believes that the election could be victim to voting fraud, or what he called, “shall we say, election anomolies.”
Not only that, but with a mail-in ballot, which this election will use (and which saves $40,000 in costs), Mr. Colvin is afraid that our vote will not be anonymous because “anyone with administrative access” to the ballots can determine how you voted.
So Mr. Colvin’s first objection is loosely based on his suspicion that the vote might be rigged in some way.
His second objection was that teachers never get the money they’re promised, and he believes that will happen again, so he will not vote for the override. And classroom-related expenses won’t be a priority, either, given the “opposite direction” the district spending is heading.
Even though, again, he and his fellow members get to decide how that money is spent.
Mrs. Smith and Mr. Colvin declined to explain how the rationale the district has given for the override contradicts their concern with classroom spending, since every one of the reasons given in the override statement provides funding for the classroom.
And we know that at least one other board member— Mr. Santa Cruz — stated that “our priority” is increasing the salaries for faculty and staff. Which means that a majority of the board has publically stated their support for making teacher salaries the priority.
Gilbert voters, then, will have a chance to help reverse the massive loss of experienced teachers GPS has suffered and will continue to unless there is funding available to pay them. And Gilbert voters will have a chance to restore programs that have been lost.
In November, they will have to decide if a slight increase in taxes is worth keeping GPS one of the best districts in the state.
• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.