PROP. 100: SALES-TAX HIKE FOR ARIZONA?

More school cuts coming even if Prop. 100 passes

2010-05-09T00:00:00Z More school cuts coming even if Prop. 100 passesRhonda Bodfield and Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

If voters approve the temporary penny sales-tax increase on the May 18 ballot, public education would receive the lion's share of the projected $1 billion it would raise in annual revenues.

And while a full two-thirds of the revenues would be steered to K-12, make no mistake: Education cuts are coming regardless.

Here's a look at some key areas that might be impacted.

Class size

When Darlene Robinson started in the Flowing Wells Unified School District eight years ago, she had 18 students.

This year at Homer Davis Elementary School, she has 35 sixth-graders crowded into a classroom meant for 28. And when a few other students come to her room for additional time in math, she has 40.

She's using her listening center and her reading table for additional seating. And instead of pairing students up for cooperative learning, she's passing slates around to reduce movement in a tight space.

That's happening across districts. With 225 teachers getting pink slips in Amphitheater Public Schools, class sizes are going up an average of seven students, said Superintendent Vicki Balentine. If the sales tax passes, perhaps half those teachers will come back, she said.

There are those who say class size doesn't matter - that it's about how good the teacher is. Nicholas Clement, Flowing Wells superintendent, challenges that, saying given a choice of schools - one with 40 kids in a class and one with half that - parents will universally pick smaller class size, all else being equal.

Matthew Ladner, vice president of research from the conservative Goldwater Institute, said that's only true if all other things are equal. "It's intuitively appealing to say if there are fewer students in a classroom, they'll learn more. But studies over and over have found that not to be the case.

"If I had a choice between 20 with a mediocre teacher or 40 with a quality teacher, I would pick 40 without hesitation," Ladner said. "Quality trumps quantity by a wide margin."

Still, Robinson, who always wanted to be a teacher, said she's having to do a lot more to maintain her commitment to her students.

Take differentiating instruction. In any group, there are students below grade level, at grade level and above grade level - and there are variations even within the groups. Trying to steer instruction to reach all students is already challenging, and it's complicated by having more of them, she said. She's noticed a large uptick in her grading time. And while it's her policy to do outreach to parents, that's becoming more difficult, as is finding time to collaborate with peers, who are also stretched more thin.

"It's a big juggling act," she said, adding that she gets to school at 6 a.m. and there are nights she doesn't get home until 7 p.m. "This year, the biggest challenge is to still keep that level of teaching where I want it."

Layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts

Maria Gonzales has been working for the Vail School District for a decade.

But the 41-year-old copy technician at Corona Foothills Middle School has already been told that she probably won't be back next year if the sales-tax increase does not pass.

Gonzales works part-time doing the copies for 37 teachers at the middle school. There are days, particularly during testing periods, she does nonstop copying for four hours, she said, noting that teachers have told her the time she saves them is time they can spend doing other academic tasks.

Workers like Gonzales are key in the fight over where money is going in schools.

Tax-increase opponents point to a February state Auditor General's report showing school districts spend an average of less than 57 percent of classroom funds in the classroom. That's the lowest it's been in the nine years the office has been tracking - and even lower than it was in 2001, the year before voters approved a sales tax to funnel additional money to classrooms, including teacher pay.

Opponents also note there is nearly a one-to-one match between teachers and others in the system. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that in school year 2007-2008, of the 104,600 education staffers, roughly half - or 54,000 - were teachers.

Clement of Flowing Wells said his staff of roughly 600 is split fairly evenly between teachers and support workers. And the 60 layoffs are also split between the two groups.

Clement said non-teaching staffers are key. They drive the bus, feed the students, serve as aides in kindergarten classes, clean the classrooms, coordinate volunteers and maintain the computers.

But Farrell Quinlan, from the National Federation of Independent Business, said he's frustrated districts are telling voters teachers will be cut. "Just because we have a budget deficit doesn't mean the first victim of budget cuts needs to be the third-grade teacher making sure Johnny can read," he said.

Asked whether the schools he remembers had some of these other support staffers in them, he said, "That's a great discussion that we need to have about education spending in Arizona. But what we're having instead is a juvenile display of emotion."

Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker said the current situation is the worst he's seen in his 22-year tenure. "We're sliding down the hill very fast. Prop. 100 at least gives us the ability to grab onto a branch to keep us from falling off the cliff."

Two years ago, he said, the district had 9,600 students. It now has 700 more students - the equivalent of an added elementary school - with 20 fewer teachers. For the first time in 15 years, the district had to expand class sizes. If Proposition 100 fails, every school has submitted a contingency budget shaving another 4 percent from personnel. He's looked at the budgets and he says another 15 teaching positions are being targeted.

What worries him is what he calls the "shrug factor" taking hold in his district, where every school is excelling.

"You keep asking for more and keep asking for more and your staff members keep stepping up to the plate until they shrug and say, 'I can't,' " he said. Workers who make copies and serve as health aides and work as clerks play an important function in a school, he said.

In TUSD, school leaders will likely look to lay off more classified staffers, said human-resources director Nancy Woll. That means it will take longer for a technician to get out and fix a computer or fix the air conditioning. Already, nine facilities may merge or shut down, and principals are part-time at some schools. "Schools will not look like people expect schools to look like," she said.

Gonzales said she's not sure what she'll do if she loses her job. "It hurts me because I'm trying to take care of my family and the needs that they have, like household things and bills. And I feel sad because I really love working with the staff members that are there. I enjoy what I do."

Interscholastics

Cienega High School sophomore Edgar Poe Jr. has a 3.7 cumulative grade-point average.

He works hard because that is what is expected of him, but another motivating factor for the 16-year-old is staying eligible to play sports.

Over the school year, Poe spends time on the football field, the basketball court and the running track.

The three sports costs his parents $100 a year. While it may not be much to some, coming up with the money while supporting five children can be difficult.

Budget cuts are forcing the Vail School District to increase its sports-participation fees from $40 per activity to $60 should the proposition pass. If it fails, the fee will go up to $100 per activity.

In both scenarios game schedules will be reduced to cut transportation costs.

What this means for Poe and his younger brother Christian - who will start ninth grade next year and likes the same three sports - is a family-capped fee of $500. The increase will likely force the brothers to eliminate at least one sport.

"Sports is what motivates me to get such good grades," Poe said. "It does make me feel kind of angry because I feel we shouldn't have to choose a sport to exclude just because money is tight."

Read more about the decisions looming for high school sports on Page C1.

Fine Arts

Isabel Brown picked up a cello for the first time in August. As the end of the school year approaches, the Gale Elementary fourth-grader can rattle off a list of songs she now knows how to play.

But 10-year-old Isabel won't have the chance to improve on her skills next year, as the program is being eliminated.

Gale is in the Tucson Unified School District, which is considering the elimination of all interscholastic and fine-arts programs unless they are site-funded through tax credits or other means.

Losing the music program is disappointing to Isabel, who said orchestra has helped her get into a rhythm with math.

"We study patterns and it helps me because I think music has a pattern too," she said.

"Losing that is losing one more way to reach children," said Nelson Brown, Isabel's father.

Brown knows Isabel is hoping for private lessons as a way to replace the instruction at school, but said he and his wife likely won't be able to do that.

Gale used to offer band and orchestra, but a 14 percent cut this year forced the school to get rid of band. A 10 percent reduction for next year is now taking orchestra away as well.

"We already don't have a librarian. Our library assistant is only here for two hours a day," said Gale Principal Paula Godfrey. "We no longer have an office manager, no site tech person, and our instructional supplies for next year are $4,000 for 425 students.

"There was no way we could afford orchestra. We held onto it at a loss of many other things because we felt it was that important but we simply couldn't afford it any longer."

Gale isn't alone. There are more than 70 elementary schools in TUSD. Cuts for the current year eliminated band and orchestra programs for about half of them, said Joan Ashcraft, director of TUSD's fine-arts department. Next year the number of schools that will offer both programs is reduced to about a dozen.

And those are just numbers for two programs. Other areas like visual arts, drama and dance will also be affected, Ashcraft said.

"It's not fluff," she said. "All the research that has been done has solidified that the arts are extremely important for student achievement."

Athletic squeeze

Thousands of high school athletes could be forced to stop playing if Proposition 100 does not pass, school administrators say.

Officials are preparing for the worst as they discuss the options, including hiking athletes' fees and ticket prices, canceling freshman and junior-varsity teams and adding fundraising to coaches' jobs.

Read about how Prop. 100 could affect high school sports, check out what athletes currently pay by district and get a snapshot of what a game costs each school. Full story, see SPORTS

More On StarNet

Find videos that describe the pros and cons of Proposition 100, see the online version of this story at www.azstarnet.com/news/local

Contact Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or RBodfield@azstarnet.com, and Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or ahuicochea@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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