What ensures excellence in education? It’s a constant debate that incites passionate opinions at all levels of government and in the community, particularly putting a strain on teachers.
For Dr. David Schauer, superintendent of the Kyrene School District, one way to minimize that stress would be to have an adequate budget to increase teachers’ pay, to fund capital improvements and to maintain a healthy reserve.
Currently, none of these are achievable as the district is facing an $8.9 million shortfall this fiscal year. Since a balanced budget is required each year by law, cuts need to be made before the next school year.
Deciding on spending reductions is a challenge as the district trimmed $28 million over the past three years.
In the recent election, Proposition 204 was defeated. Another blow was House Bill 2405, which would have increased the schools’ bonding capacity until 2016, which however died last spring without coming up for a vote in the Legislature.
The bill would have allowed the Kyrene district to increase its bond limit capacity, a number tied to the total assessed property values within the district.
A voter-approved 2010 bond authorization gave Kyrene officials the approval to utilize $116 million over the next 10 years.
This amount stayed within the limitation of five percent of total assessed property value for the district, however the recent decline in property values caused the district to exceed that limitation.
HB 2405 would have bumped the limit to 10 percent, which would have given the district access to the necessary funds to maintain it 26 facilities.
Although it failed to gain traction, district officials say some hope still exists that a reconstituted measure might up again in the spring.
Until then district administrators must consider various options and, in a study session with the governing board on Nov. 13, Schauer outlined immediate actions: implement a hiring freeze, defer capital expenses and examine the district’s reserve balance.
Being in a difficult budget cycle affects more than the administrators—it directly impacts teachers’ pay, which has not increased in four years.
It also causes teachers to consider the possible impact of more funding cuts, including increases to class sizes or program changes.
Michelle Hirsch, Kyrene Governing Board president, who was recently re-elected for a second term, says that both the school board and Kyrene Education Association president Susan Cormier are pondering solutions to address teachers’ extra work load and stress. One idea is to eliminate the two-week block of parent-teacher conferences.
While the idea may seem radical to parents who value the traditional, face-to-face meeting time, modern technology offers on-line access for daily or weekly email contact, to portfolios of student work, along with students’ grades for individual assignments and tests.
In addition, teachers maintain classroom web pages that detail expectations, learning objectives, upcoming projects and assignments, and include other links and resources for parents and students.
From the outside, a teacher’s schedule looks idyllic—a normal school day runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. — but only the classroom hours are logged in that compilation of time.
“Most teachers’ days extend into the night, and even weekends, with additional responsibilities, such as lesson planning, assignment grading, preparing for and attending numerous meetings, completing professional development training, collaborating with other teachers, communicating with parents and students outside of class, and more,” said Hirsch.
“Teachers have to spend considerable money out of their pockets for supplies for themselves and students; they receive little to no secretarial or staff support, and many must take on second or third part-time jobs after school and on weekends to make ends meet,” said Hirsch—“and we still expect them to be at their best to teach every day.”
Cormier plans to begin gathering teacher input by developing a survey.
“We want to ask all our employees their ideas and thoughts about how to move forward with fewer resources,” said Cormier.
“The demands of the job with the new teacher evaluation system, and planning related to the AZ Common Core Curriculum, require more preparation time for teachers.”
“No additional financial support was given to school districts to implement these state mandates.”
As the governing board and the teachers explore all the commitments required of the profession, Cormier suggests there is some immediate assistance that parents and the community can offer.
“Parents and community members can help teachers and students by communicating with their elected officials that funding for education is important and (legislators) need to find the resources to reinstate adequate funding for our K-12 schools,” she said.
“Another way to support our district is by allocating your education tax credit dollars to one of our schools.
“And, please stay informed and read the updates and information that come from Dr. Schauer to our schools, families and communities.”
In addition, volunteers are always needed and welcome in Kyrene for various programs within the district and in the schools.
Contact your child’s teacher, neighborhood school or the district office and ask how you can help.