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2013 Guide to School District Overrides & Bond Measures

November 04, 2013 J,

AFP-AZ Guide to School District Overrides and Bond Measures

School District Overrides

When considering school district override questions for maintenance and operations (M&O), AFP-Arizona does two things:

1)  We do the math to see how much money is already available within those districts, and how much money the district could potentially get into its classrooms, to have adequate classroom facilities and to pay good teachers what they’re worth.  In most cases, districts already have enough money to put two teachers in every classroom — one teacher, and one special education instructor (not necessarily based physically in the same classroom) to work with the handful of IEPs in an average classroom.  Unfortunately, the available money has trouble actually trickling down into classrooms, with too much spent on administration, soft capital, and a wide range of non-classroom services.  For (much) more on this topic, scroll down to the section below on “AFP-AZ Guide to Wasted Money in AZ’s K-12 School System.”

2)  We compare per-pupil funding in a given district with the per-pupil funding for charter schools.  The average district has more per-pupil resources than a charter school does and most districts have significantly larger student populations, meaning that they should be able to achieve economies of scale to offset greater regulatory burdens.  If a school district spends significantly more per pupil than a charter school does, that should be a red flag in the mind of the taxpayers and voters in that district.

School District Capital Bond Measures

When evaluating bond measures, AFP-Arizona never issues a blanket statement saying “Vote No,” but we do urge taxpayers to be very skeptical when district officials talk about their capital needs and wants.  The default position for voters on bonds should be No, and the burden of proof should be on districts, to prove that they actually need the new capital financing.  First, taxpayers should find out how recently their school district passed its last bond measure, and make sure that districts aren’t wasting money by building gold-plated facilities.  Taxpayers should go to local schools and to district office buildings and take a hard look.  If possible, taxpayers should avoid being taken on the official tour: they should demand to see a wide variety of classrooms and non-classroom facilities.  Finally, taxpayers should visit local charter schools.  In many cases, the charters are doing a better job educating our children, without spending money on expensive physical plants.

AFP-AZ Guide to Wasted Money in AZ’s K-12 School System

To really understand how much money is actually in the Arizona K-12 school system, we need to look at per-pupil figures.  Total annual per-pupil district funding, from all sources (local, state, and federal) was $8,992 per pupil for the 2011-2012 school year.  This spending level is being attained in the wake of the worst recession in the last 75 years — at a time when many Arizonans are still out of work and many have not seen pay raises in years.

To check that overall per-pupil number for district schools, and to compare it with the number for charter schools ($7,460 — 17 percent less than district spending), go to pdf page 10 (expenditures) and pdf page 12 (student count) from Volume 1 of the state Superintendent’s report for 2011-2012 (the latest available year):

http://www.azed.gov/finance/reports/#SafrTop

Volume 1 of the Superintendent’s report, on pdf page 57, also shows “current expenditures” for the average unified school district in the state at $7,412 of resources per student 2011-2012.  Please note that the $7,412 figure does NOT include expenditures for capital and various admin and non-classroom services.  See pdf page 52 for the definitions.

Starting on pdf page 58, you can find your own district (alphabetical order, by county and then by district name) and do your own math.  The per-student current expenditures (does not include all expenditures) is in the far right column, in the line with Total ADM.

If the average classroom in unified districts has 25 students, that means there is $185,300 of potential non-capital resources in that classroom.  Think about that for a moment.

If the average district could limit administrative overhead and other programs (library, arts, etc) to 25 percent ($46,325), it could allocate $75,000 for the salary and benefits of a good teacher in the classroom of 25, and still allocate another $63,975 to pay a special education instructor to work with the IEPs in that classroom.

Even if you assume a further ten percent cut to all of the figures above, they still look pretty good–$67,000 for the main teacher, $57,000 for the special ed instructor, and $41,000 for related overhead and programs.

Try This at Home!

Here are the figures for my own home school districts, from the Supe’s report:

District               Per-Pupil         Potential          Potential          Teacher            Special
Name                Spending         Classroom       Overhead        Salary              Ed Salary

Phx Union            $9,480             $177,750         $59,250           $100,000         $77,750

Creighton
Elementary           $8,216             $154,050         $51,350           $  85,000         $69,050

The BIG Question

The Big Question is why so many school districts fail to pay good teachers what they’re worth. Ask teachers in your district if they make $75,000 a year in salary and benefits.  Perhaps some senior teachers make that much, but in many districts, the only folks who make that much money (or more) are administrators (many of whom make six figures).

The reason districts do not pay good teachers what they’re worth is that districts (with the help of legislative dictates) are mismanaging their resources. As school district officials will readily point out, districts are under a lot of constraints: it is difficult for them to simply reallocate resources in the ways we have suggested above.  But those constraints are all political ones–and ones that educrat lobbies have mostly championed over the years.

For example, much of the blame goes to the labor rules imposed by the teacher unions. Under those rules, good teachers are paid the same as bad teachers, and bad teachers are not given the pink slips they deserve. And older teachers are paid more than younger teachers, regardless of performance. (Look at how fiercely the Arizona Education Association fought the Legislature’s modest attempt to do away with seniority as the sole criterion for employment decisions.)

Also, most school districts are very heavy on bureaucratic overhead. Some personnel are hired in large part to fill out paperwork and (attempt to) comply with various mandates. Unfortunately, the powerful lobbying groups, such as the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona School Boards Association, and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, that wield so much influence on Arizona’s education legislation have effectively promoted the mandates and the paperwork.  Instead of lobbying for management independence, they have lobbied (endlessly, it seems) for more money.  In response, legislators, state superintendents, and voters have demanded more in the way of accountability — which, in the minds of central planners, means goading districts into trying out the latest pedagogical fads and having districts fill out more paperwork to see if the latest interventions are bearing any fruit.  The latest manifestation of this mentality is Common Core — recently renamed the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.

Despite all of the money we have thrown at Arizona schools, the educrats tell us that Arizona is very low compared to other States when it comes to per-pupil spending.  Even if Arizona were low relative to other States, the fact is that we are spending $7,412 per child in non-capital costs for the average unified district – see pdf page 57 of the Supe’s report — and $8,992 per child in all district schools if we include capital costs – see pdf pages 10 and 12 of the Supe’s report.  (We spend much more than we need to on capital, as well.)  Those per-student resources are more than enough money to give Arizona some of the best schools in the country.

Hopefully, ed schools and educrats may eventually get over their longtime fetish with class size, and begin to understand what the managers of independent schools have always understood, which is that the quality and motivation of the teacher is vastly more important than class size when it comes to increasing student performance.)

The Prop 301 Experience

Back in 2000, Arizonans were told that we needed to increase sales taxes to support education (Prop 301). The voters and much of the business community fell for the pitch, and the result was a significant increase in per-pupil spending:

http://www.americansforprosperity.org/files/k12azperpupil04-02-2010.pdf

But wo bad things happened in the decade since Arizona passed Prop 301.

First, we failed to get a greater proportion of funds into our classrooms. According to the state auditor general, we get a smaller fraction of money in the classroom today than we did before Prop 301.  (It’s not a big percentage difference—basically the portion has hovered between 56 and 58 percent.)  The failure of Prop 301 to put a larger portion of funds into the classroom should be a major scandal.

Second, we have nothing to show for all that money spent, in terms of student performance:

http://www.americansforprosperity.org/files/azvsfl2009naep.pdf   

Mismanaged Funds

The problem with Arizona education generally, is not a lack of money. The problem is mismanagement. We at AFP-Arizona are highly skeptical about the notion that more money will lead to increased student performance.  More likely, if Arizona gives more money to school districts, they will continue to waste much of that money.

America’s government schools have sucked up more and more money for decades. Since 1970 we have more than doubled per-pupil spending, in constant dollars. Sadly, we have very little (if anything) to show for those investments when it comes to student performance:

http://www.heritage.org/research/Education/images/b2179_chart4.gif

The state’s charter schools received $6,722 per child in 2011-2012 (not counting capital costs). That’s 10 percent less, per student, than what the average unified district school got. When you add in the capital costs, the difference is 17 percent. And yet, charter schools have proven to do a better job of educating kids, despite the fact that many charter schools take students who have been kicked out of district schools, and also serve disadvantaged student populations:

http://www.nber.org/~schools/charterschoolseval/

For a brief outline of how to use the charter model to reform Arizona education, check out this blog post by Arizona Republic columnist Bob Robb:

http://www.azcentral.com/members/Blog/RobertRobb/64748

Further, many Arizona private schools provide an excellent education for tuition of less than $5,000 per year:

http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/1851

There are proven ways to improve school performance, but they do NOT involve giving lots of money to mismanaged school districts. For ideas, start in Florida:

http://www.goldwaterinstitute.org/article/2577

The Bottom Line on K-12 Education in Arizona

The bottom line is that we need more education for our tax dollars, not more tax dollars for education.

One of the educrats we argued with during a recent override battle accused opponents of overrides of risking doing “irreparable damage for the future of our children.”  Yet, that is precisely what we will get if we continue to throw more money at the same old system without demanding fundamental changes in the way districts manage schools.

Districts need to put schools under independent management that has the power to immediately pay good teachers what they’re worth, fire clock-punchers and excess administrators, and streamline overhead.  District schools need to be exposed to real competition, meaning that students and their parents should be able to take their per-student resources to the schools of their choice.

The above discussion has been about K-12 education. Similar waste exists in many other areas of Arizona’s state government. With so much waste in government, we believe it’s a terrible idea to raise taxes (further) on struggling workers, families and small businesses.

For Liberty, Tom

Tom Jenney
Arizona Director
Americans for Prosperity
www.aztaxpayers.org
tjenney@afphq.org

(602) 478-0146

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