A Suggestion to improve all Arizona Public Schools

In November, there will be a ballot initiative on the Arizona Ballot to increase funding for Arizona’s public schools. It was a voter driven initiative that came from the #RedForEd campaign last school year after Governor Ducey and the Republican Control State legislature’s piecemeal pay increase for teachers. Prop 207 would raise an additional $690 million to our public school budget via increased taxes on Arizonans who earn more than $250,000.00 a year. Although I like the intent, it barely addresses the problem regarding our State’s budget for properly and effectively educating our students.

Currently Arizona ranks 49th of 50 States for public school education. Arizona spends $7,737.00 per student per year K-12 in public schools. However, here are some other interesting statistics to look at while considering where the problem lies.

Statewide we collect taxes to commit $7,737.00 per student per year, but that’s not what each student is getting in direct benefits. Arizona has an elected Superintendent of Public Education who oversees 227 separate Public School Districts governed by elected school boards. The individual schoolboards are funded based on the number of students they have enrolled but they allocate the funding as they see fit. From principle pay, teacher pay, administrative staff pay, infrastructure, textbooks, computers, supplies, etc. etc. each of the 227 separate districts decide how the money is spent.

These 227 school districts cover 2,421 schools. Some districts only have one school under their jurisdiction. These schools have 1,080,319 students enrolled and employ 50,800 teachers. In addition to the public schools, Arizona subsidizes 567 charter schools with approximately 150,000 students enrolled. Remember, the charter schools are for profit unlike the public schools. Using these numbers, there is a ratio of 21.2 students per teacher, but that’s an average. In reality we have some very small and some very large classrooms with only one teacher.

Now let’s look at salaries. The average salary of a school principle in Arizona is $99,339.00 with a range of $87,741.00 to $111,747.00. The average salary of a teacher in Arizona is $53,560.00 with a range of $46,761 to $61,835.00. Remember, each individual school district determines the individual pay for administrators, support staff, teachers, paras and substitute teachers. They also determine what in the money allotted them goes to building maintenance, school supplies, meals, resources for students etc.

The point I’m trying to make here is two-fold; although overall budget for Arizona schools is substandard, as a state, we are too top heavy in terms of the numbers of school districts and the administrative staff employed to manage the schools. Further, all these schoolboards are filled with those who are elected to office. Let’s be honest, when you go down ballot on election day to the races for Superintendent of Public Education and local school boards, most are just picking names, perhaps party affiliation, not actual resumes. Few take the time to research the candidates for these positions in terms of experience in education, best practices, budgets, experience, etc. We are too often placing the wrong people in charge of managing the system we have to educate our children.

In addition to allocating money, the elected officials determine school curriculum and policy for handling the enrolled students. Too often instead of making curriculum and policy decisions based on evidenced based practices for success, the decisions carry more of a political ideology that can run counter to best practices.

So, my modest proposal for Arizona which I know most likely won’t go anywhere past this blog is:

1)      Pass Prop 207 to increase funding for public education.

2)      Consolidate School Districts across the State.

3)      Established market value pay for all administrative staff, teachers and support that is in keeping with the cost of living in the areas they live and work, not on arbitrary methodology of the school districts.

4)      Eliminate the process of electing the Superintendent of Public Education and Schoolboard members and instead create a bipartisan panel of experts in the field of education who would submit a list of candidates to the Governor to fill those positions based on advice and consent of the State Legislature. Further, those who are placed in those positions will undergo annual performance reviews based on the success of the students in their charge and face removal if they don’t measure up.

We all agree there are serious problems in the public education system. I suggest that a major factor in our failing schools is that we have too much politics involved for a matter where we need more expertise. If we want success in our schools with financial responsibility, more bang for the buck let’s consolidate the districts and from the top down, bring in the best qualified people and pay them what they deserve.

But first, vote yes on Prop 207, it’s a start.