Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Thoughts on School Funding

Here in Arizona, voters will soon be deciding on whether or not we should pay an additional (temporary) 1% sales tax, two-thirds of which is designated for primary and secondary education, while one-third of the revenue is designated for both health and human services and public safety. This vote is in response to the current economic environment, which threatens to force public officials to cut or reduce funding for the above-mentioned services.
My take on the matter is that we should not drop school funding, nor should we drop public safety funding, unless that change is to ‘cut the fat’. (Staying on track with the title of this post, from here on out, I’ll remove non-education items from the discussion.) Losing teachers, especially well qualified ones, is a very bad thing for our children, and subsequently our future. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the opinion that if that happens (aside from saving the budget), that this is ever a good idea. If the tax will help prevent such failures from occurring, then I do not mind paying the extra penny for my McDonald’s dollar menu item.
However, reading the information distributed to the public regarding the ballot, I did come upon an interesting thought – an idea I don’t believe I’ve ever considered or had previously been shared with me. The plan, instead of raising the taxes, as this was an opposing argument, is to decrease the total number of school districts across the state, thereby decreasing overhead administration costs, while reducing the need to cut (as many) teachers.
According to the AZ Dept. of Ed., there are a total of 155 districts in the state (as identified by district websites), whereas the opposing viewpoint cited 250+, which was almost verified (229) by a third party. (Maybe part of the budget problem is that nobody seems to know just how many districts there are?) If organized by city, only those districts in Tucson/Phoenix would really make a difference if conglomerated, reducing the total in these locales from around 45 to about 15 (based on VERY loose estimates, assuming a 3-to-1 conversion).  If combining based instead on county (instead of municipality), and using a 2-to-1 ratio instead for consideration of the distance of some districts, the total of 229 could be reduced to about 125.
In the last year or so, three new superintendents were hired in the Phoenix area, each making in the range of $150-200k per year, according to AZCentral. With a larger district (as is the trend nationwide), larger salaries go to the person in charge, so this individual cost would possibly be a bit higher, but much less than the three combined. That number would also just cover the superintendent. Remember: there are a number of other administrators involved as well. Even though the individual/per employee costs may go up, there would also be a significant drop in the total money spent on administration overall.
While I said before that I would not oppose paying an increased tax to fix the problem, I think there are better ways to solve them. Add to that, I actually think the ‘temporary’ tax may cause more harm than good. Once that funding goes away, what position will the state be in? How do we know until we get there that the tax money will actually fix the problem, instead of just bandaging it. (this comic says it all...) Increasing funding permanently would address that, but it would also lead to more spending later on down the road. Reducing overall spending instead would also be a fix and not a bandage, so there are a few options. I think this is just one of the better solutions to the issue at hand.
**There is much more to the logistics than what I’ve presented here, but I am simply trying to make a generalization for the sake of understanding. Why pay three people to do a job, if one can do it? If someone would like to compile all the data and come back with some figures, differing examples/solutions/possibilities to either support or disqualify the theory, then by all means, do so – I would love to see it! I have neither the time, nor I think the access/resources.

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