My wife and I were discussing politics a few days ago upon which I told her it “Feels like I am trying to run up an ice covered mountain”. There are many ingredients in politics, but none bigger than confusion and passion; both of which are in great supply on this issue. The internal struggle over on whether to post my thoughts on this one continues even as I type. This topic seems to magnify the “jerk” in all of us. We see article after article and meme after meme that have conflicting information. What is the truth? And why is there so much conflicting data? We are talking math right? For you math people like me, what the heck is going on?? We like math because it cannot lie, or so we thought.
A number of my fiscally conservative friends have decided to support the override. My hat is off to them. I disagree, but my hat is still off. Supporting the override is much more popular than not supporting it. After all, “it is for the children”… and “we cannot sacrifice today’s children just to fix the broken system”. I want to lay out most of my reasons for not supporting the override.
First, we must ponder the question, “What are the real numbers”? I do not have a flipping clue. I have seen numbers from the state, and I have seen numbers from the district, and magically they never seem to match. Second, “How much money should it cost to educate our children”? The answers to this question range even greater than the previous question. Third question (which we will not get to in this discussion), “Why has education spending per student continued to climb over the decades, while the following happens – teacher pay increases at a sleeping snail’s pace, student extra curricular opportunities decrease by the year, parental costs for those activities increase, and most important, the quality of education continues to decline”.
1 – Real Education Spending: Biggest reason the answers differ is by design. The state has created (by backroom deals, unrestrained judicial corruption, and nearly every government employees desire for bigger government) a monster of confusion, and the school districts have ZERO desire to address the problem. Sadly, the districts do not even want to bring up the real problem at the state level. Why is that? Because it does not fit the overall push for “equality”. Please explain to me why (and this is direct from the state of AZ) some school districts get state/federal funds to the tune of about $5000 per student per year, while other districts get upwards of $30,000 per student per year?? State law has already mandated that it is not “fair” for a schools in poor areas or rural areas to not have schools with the same physical amenities as the big city wealthy areas… so funding for schools is separate and “equal”, and when I say equal I do not mean equal per student. Why may I ask are the more affluent areas like the Higley district receiving so much less funds from the state? Why do our leaders on the school board not share this travesty with the people? We in the Higley district are generally not hurting financially. We may not be well off, but we have decent jobs, nice homes, and a very family oriented life. Our incomes are often times higher than much of the state, and as such, we (generally) pay more in income tax, property tax, sales tax, etc, etc, etc… So, we supply the state a higher than average amount of its funds, and yet it gives us back a lower than average amount of its funds. Matter of fact, the Higley district ranks among the very lowest in the state for state funds (which are coming from us!).
I have heard and seen so many different numbers for our district in terms of dollars per student per year. I have heard and seen anywhere from $5000 to about $9000 per student per year, when including every bit of income from all areas. What is the real number? If we choose to go with the $5000 a year number, which is the lowest number I have seen quoted, it would be $125,000 a year for a class of 25… imagine what it would be if it was closer to $9000 per student per year. Say a teacher’s salary is $36,000 a year, perhaps a total of $50,000 a year if we include benefits – where is the other $75k going?
The system is broken and needs to be overhauled, period. We need parents, teachers, school districts and state legislators to come together to make this right. Continued band-aids do not fix the problem. This has gone on for decades and we continue to have the same arguments year after year after year.
2 – Some of the schools in our district are filled only to about 70-75% of capacity. This leaves the cost per student much higher than it could be as supporting staff (principles, aids, health, secretaries, etc) are all still needed.
3 – I know most of us greatly prefer having separate elementary and jr. high schools, but we spent the money when we didn’t have it. Now the district is demanding more money to cover the increase in costs because we have more schools. Those district leaders knew very well that we not only didn’t have the money to build the schools (so they made a nice deal with a contractor and signed long term leases), but they also knew that we did not have the money to run and maintain the schools. They chose to build them anyway knowing full well that they could come back and argue how much they need more funds because we have more schools. Granting these funds is paramount to rewarding the district for not being good stewards of the funds we have given previously.
4 – Our district has proven repeatedly that they do not want to work with the fiscal conservative. Last year during a highly competitive school board election we received clear evidence of the zero tolerance our district leaders have for our voice. The “give me more money” candidates won fair and square, but it was a close race. Whitener won handily with 5552 votes and Wojtovich was 2nd with 4853 votes. The two “we can do better with the money we have” candidates came in 3rd and 4th with 4760 and 4404 votes. The big rub was that one of the board needed to resign but this came too late to change the ballots to allow us to vote for three. Considering that there were only 93 votes separating #2 and #3 vote getters, one would think that the district would simply offer the spot to Michelle Anderson. The district offered up multiple names to fill the vacancy but not only of those names was Michelle Anderson. The Maricopa County Superintendent gets to make the final decision. I, along with many others, reached out to both He and Denny Barney stating our preference for the logical selection of Michelle Anderson. My understanding was that after receiving numerous phone calls, emails and letters, that Mr Covey reached out to the Higley District asking them “why not Mrs Anderson”… The district believes there is no room for the fiscal side and pushed for someone that didn’t run, and the people did not vote for. In the end Mr Covey chose to head the advice of the district over the voters. Why, is it so wrong to have someone on the board that is bringing up the tough questions? You would still have the majority.
5 – “If we do not give more money, our property values will plummet”. This is a fallacy. If our schools suck, yes, I can see where property values will take a hit, but not because we do not give you more money. I recently read a comment by a leader on the Higley School Board, in which she stated, ” I know that our Strong Schools are what has made Gilbert Great.” This statement along with other similar statements I have heard, absolutely frustrate the snot out of me. I have heard similar statements regarding law enforcement as well, that, “We are the 2nd safest city in the nation due to our police department.”. No!! I got news for you, Gilbert is great because the people are great! We are a safe city because we have great people that live here. Our schools are great because the families that live here are good. The parents push their children, and the children want to succeed in this world. Good teachers are required (and appreciated), but no, it was not “strong schools that made gilbert great”. Likewise, our schools will not sink and drive our property values to new lows simply because we do not vote them more money. The schools will adapt and work to do the best they can with the money they have, and the students and parents will continue to do a good job and the Students will make the school great!
6 – Budgeting. Another part of budgeting exacerbates the funding problem, is the “use it or lose it” and “these funds are earmarked for “x” category”. Why? Why should we be forced with spending money on something that we may not need? Why, can we as locals, determine that we would prefer to spend the money in other areas, like teach pay?
7 – Transportation. My fourth child just graduated from Higley earlier this year, as did the three before him. With each succeeding child, our family costs continue to rise for just about anything that wasn’t “reading, writing and arithmetic”. We were constantly being charged for sports, band, choir, etc, etc, etc. I had heard comments from some in the community like “pay to play”. While I was not one saying this, it at least had some logic. But, if we are going to use that logic for sports, music, etc, then why are we not using it for transportation? Why do feel like there needs to be so many buses to get students to and from school? Call me crazy, but don’t we have more cars per family in Gilbert than nearly the rest of the entire world? We do not want to be responsible for getting them there and back? What a great opportunity to talk with our children! We could also organize carpooling (which we did at my house). Transportation is a boatload of money. We can do better!
There is no doubt in my mind that the override is going to pass, most likely it may even pass with by a 2 to 1 margin. However, I will be voting “NO”, and I hope many of you will join me. We must continue to strive for better government. We have become junkies, hooked on money and debt. Are we, as the doctors, doing any good by giving the addicts another “fix”? I think not.