Saturday, July 30, 2016

This is my response to the Superintendent’s Report delivered to the TUSD School Board on 7/12, which you can watch at: http://www.tusd1.org/contents/govboard/gbvideo071216.html.  Please note that the MINUTE points below are approximate.

The Superintendent’s Report followed typical course.  As such, it was both surprising and not.  The Report was deficit-focused and revolved around the several reasons why TUSD does not have enough money to fulfill promises made to teachers (MINUTE 5:40 – 9:30).  At MINUTE 7, the Supt. sums it up: basically, TUSD has serious problems because the future is unknown.  Does anyone else have a problem with that?

According to the Supt., TUSD’s problems include: 
1)    the ADE owes TUSD $15 million, and they will send $3.6m sometime soon, though the ADE will likely delay the payment as long possible (the 1% lawsuit);
2)    inflation funding is variable;
3)    Prop 123 (land trust funding draw-down is at 50% in 5yrs at 0 in 10yrs);
4)    Prop 301 (expires in 2020);
5)    the State legislature has threatened to cut desegregation (see Classrooms First).  

It seems disingenuous to claim these represent real reasons for TUSD not to raise teacher salaries, as the District promised it would before Prop 123 passed. 

1)    The ADE has been ordered to fund TUSD properly.  That is a good thing.  TUSD leaders can put political pressure on the ADE until it follows through—and TUSD now has the support of the law and the courts.    

2)    Inflation funding is variable.  This is a fact for all Arizona school districts.  But, if you check out: http://azsba.org/inflation-lawsuit/ and other sites to read about Arizona education system funding issues, you will see that funding issues can only be resolved, under court order, by raising the numbers of dollars the State sends to school districts.  So inflation funding is variable, but changes mean the number of dollars going to schools will go up, not down. 
The ASBA explains, under “What are the terms of the settlement?,” as follows:
1.     A total of $3.5 billion dollars to K-12 education in just the first ten years.
1.     This includes a reset of the 2015-16 Base Level to $3600 in per pupil funding from $3,426.74. This represents a $248 million funding increase for the 15-16 school year. Over the first ten years, this reset represents an increase of over $2.8 billion dollars to base funding over ten years, and the Base Level inflation funding requirement continues in perpetuity.
2.     Payment of $625 million dollars over ten years in Additional Funds. These Additional Funds will be paid in $50 million payments for five years starting this current fiscal year (15-16 FY16). Then, the state will pay $75 million for the next five years. These Additional Funds equal about half of the potential back pay.
2.     Resumed annual inflation adjustment to the Base Level in perpetuity pursuant to A.R.S. § 15-901.01.
3.     An increased Trust Land revenue distribution from 2.5% to 6.9% for 10 years, with the increased contributions directed to go to K-12 funding.
1.     The Trust is protected in that if the current 5 year average balance is decreased, then the trust distribution will be decreased from 6.9% to a value that will not damage the trust.
The obligation to fund the Base Level continues, even if this occurs.
1.     The general fund will continue to fund inflation when the Land Trust distribution returns to 2.5% after FY 2025.
2.     Contingencies have been put in place to account for a severe economic downturn in the state economy, while still protecting the Base Level reset.

3)    Prop 123 is not the end; it is the beginning, and it represents back-pay.  So, when TUSD leaders promised in the media to “put the money where it matters most, which is teacher salaries,” but then awarded teachers less than 30% of the Prop 123 monies, they exposed a lack of transparency and accountability with their willingness to say whatever it took to get what they wanted.  By reneging on their promises, the TUSD board majority displayed a complete disregard for TUSD teachers and staff.  
In addition, the ASBA explains:
. . . Proposition 123 gets over $530 million new dollars to schools in the next two school years. Schools will receive about $298 million dollars in Base Level reset and Additional Funds this school year in June 2016. Then, schools will receive another $300 million new dollars for FY17, which begins July 1, 2016. These dollars are flexible for schools to use as they need. Also, the settlement preserves inflation funding in perpetuity. Our school Base Level funding will again be adjusted for inflation as the voters wanted. It is worth noting that the plaintiffs previously offered to settle the case if the state fully reset the Base Level at $3666.14, in exchange for dropping all claims for back pay. The Plaintiffs were open to an up to a three year phase-in of the full required reset. However, this settlement gets schools to the full reset figure in YEAR TWO of the settlement (FY17), plus provides almost 50% of the back pay.   
You can also read more about Prop 123 at: https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona_Education_Finance_Amendment,_Proposition_123_(May_2016)  At Ballotpedia, you will learn that Prop 123 was an amendment that helped to settle a five-year lawsuit concerning Prop 301 monies.  As such, Prop 123 monies should have gone to those who did not get what they were owed because of the 2007 economic recession: teachers.  And just in case anyone thinks that teachers are not worth it, please note that teachers have the single greatest impact on student achievement (see http://www.ernweb.com/educational-research-articles/effective-teachers-are-the-most-important-factor-contributing-to-student-achievement/). 

4)    Prop 301 does not expire in its entirety in 2021.  And, the parts that do expire will likely find their way back to the ballot in 2020—of course, TUSD’s ability to lobby the State government will have an impact on that turn-of-events. 
The ASBA tells us:
A.R.S. § 15-901.01, approved by voters in 2000, requires the legislature to increase the Base Level and other components of the funding formula either 2% or the actual change in the GDP price deflator, whichever is less. Additionally, the provision also prohibits the Base Level from ever being reduced below the fiscal year 2001-2002 amount, ($2,687 per pupil). This inflation funding requirement is separate from the increased sales tax revenue, also approved in Prop. 301, for the Classroom Site fund and does not expire in 2021 as the sales tax does.
Ballotpedia also sheds light on Prop 301, at https://ballotpedia.org/Arizona_Sales_Tax_for_Education,_Proposition_301_(2000).

In the end, the future is indeed unknown.  But an uncertain future is a fact of life for all humans, and TUSD leaders should not be so willing to blame that which is out of human control for policy-based problems in TUSD.  In my research, I have noticed that the best school districts seem to be run by people who focus, first and foremost, on student achievement and after that, on the creative solutions they have developed to solve tricky issues.  I do not recall hearing TUSD’s Supt. or other leaders mention student achievement many times in the past month or so—though I have heard many, many references to a lack of funding. 


In the end, let us keep in mind that TUSD reported that the total budgeted revenue for 2016 is $340,535,000.00, at http://www.tusd1.org/contents/distinfo/budget/pdfs/ProposedBudget16-17.pdf.  TUSD has about 55K students.  How can a lack of funds be such a pernicious issue?  The answer is in the policies that determine how funds are managed, not the amount of funds available.

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