An intriguing socio-political phenomenon is occurring in Arizona.
For the first time in three years, education has surpassed immigration issues as the top issue facing the state, according to poll results released by High Ground Public Affairs Consultants, a Phoenix-based public affairs consulting team.
Findings from that poll, conducted in June and commissioned by the Stand for Children Arizona, stated that 70 percent of voters in Arizona think education is headed the wrong direction. Also, record numbers of teachers are quitting and leaving Arizona.
Rebecca Gau, executive director of Stand for Children Arizona, says that nearly the same percentage of voters believe Arizona schools are underfunded.
What About Yavapai County?
Yavapai County has 26 school districts, 25 of which are public schools, with the 26th being the Yavapai College district, according to records in the Yavapai County Education Service Agency. Schools are multi-million dollar economic influences.
Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter says his staff of eight Fiscal/Election Services personnel maintain exacting records of all districts and schools and their fiscal and educational services and provides central administration and support to school districts throughout Yavapai County.
Carter, a native Arizonan with more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, administrator and school executive, has served as county superintendent since 2005.
He also was appointed to the Arizona State Board of Education in March 2015.
Carter explains that school districts in Yavapai County include 97 pre-school through secondary school campuses. Also to be considered are 25 charter schools. However, private schools, such as those administered through churches or private institutions, are not included in the count maintained by the YCESA.
The biggest is Humboldt Unified School District (more commonly thought of as the Prescott Valley community). It has approximately 5,500 students.
The smallest? Crown King, with five students (maybe).
The other districts run the gamut from small one and two-room schools to larger campuses with hundreds of students.
Staffing these schools during 2014-2015 were 2,658 certificated teachers, counselors, nurses and administrators. Not included in these numbers are the various non-certificated personnel, such as maintenance staff and custodians, cooks and bus drivers. Those numbers change, dependent on time of year and need.
Carter emphasizes that the above numbers do not reflect the employees from charter and private schools.
How much money is involved annually to keep these schools in operation?
“For the 2014-2015 school year, we have processed $292,134,337 in revenue and expenses,” said Renee Raskin, chief deputy for the YCESA. “We still do have an encumbrance period until August, so that number will be larger at the end of the fiscal year. I am sure we could at the very least round up to $300,000,000.”
Funds for schools in the county are dispersed by the YCESA to districts as mandated by Arizona statutes. The YCESA does not determine how the money is spent.
Raskin says handling those millions of dollars requires diligent scrutiny and accounting of the sources for that money.
“Funds come from local taxes, state and county equalization, additional state aid, state and federal grants, food service, tax credits, rentals, gifts and donations and sale of property,” she explained.
Raskin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Wisconsin, commented that oversight of the complex fiscal system “…is challenging. The parts are continually moving and the landscape changes daily.”
Education is Big Business in Yavapai County
The money and personnel involved in keeping schools going in Yavapai County is truly big business.
Superintendent Carter cautions that too often, people try to generalize and compare one district’s costs and budget to another district.
“That can’t be done,” Carter explained. “What must be realized is that one school district is precisely that – one district. It is unique – not a mirror image of another one.”
Carter says it is virtually impossible to compare one teacher or group of teachers to another. The same is true of benefit packages, which vary from district to district. Same with tax credits or school grants or extra duty pay.
“Such factors – and there are dozens more – make it impossible to put all schools in the same box. Every school is distinctly different,” he said.
Even so, the fiscal impact of schools within the county is enormous, and the challenges are even greater to meet educational goals, Carter points out.
Schools Face Growing Problems: Personnel and Budget
Dramatic and intense budget cuts in school districts across Arizona are creating problems that have no immediate solution.
In fact, because the reality of teacher shortages, coupled with inadequate funding for Arizona schools, the state of Arizona is going to suffer economically, educationally, culturally and, certainly, competitively with other states that are supporting education more aggressively.
In just Yavapai County this past year, 38 full-time teaching positions went unfilled because of a lack of qualified applications, according to Tim Carter. He says that he and several others in the region are now seeking ways to “grow our own” by working with colleges and universities to encourage more students to consider teaching as a career.
Last month, Jennifer Johnson, executive director for Support Our Schools AZ, a Phoenix-based non-profit advocacy organization, reported that 20 percent of first-year and 24 percent of second year teachers are quitting their teaching positions. She says that far exceeds the national average.
Johnson helps coordinate efforts with three foci:
- Connect public education advocates with legislative community;
- Promote citizen involvement and awareness;
- Provide a voice for alternative – public and private – education initiatives.
She is guided in such efforts by a board of directors who represent a cross-section of the state. One of those directors is Paul Stanton, former superintendent of Humboldt Unified School District. Stanton, who relocated to the Phoenix area, is now superintendent of the Washington Elementary School District.
Johnson’s findings are echoed in a story from The Washington Post, which reported an exodus of teachers from Arizona because of low salaries, limited resources and endless testing requirements. The National Education Association reported that the average starting salary for Arizona teachers in 2012-13 was $31,874 – the 44th lowest of all 50 states. For all Arizona teachers, the average 2013 salary was $49,000. Nationally, the average was $56,000.
What needs to be done to counter the growing concern?
Carter advocates that the general public needs to mobilize, begin to acknowledge that a diminishing educational system is going to hurt the economy and the future of the state.
“We need to have a shift in the education pendulum back to strong public support for schools. We need to make quality educational system one of the highest priorities in the state.” QCBN
Story and Photo by Ray Newton
Tim Carter, who has served as Yavapai County Superintendent of Education since 2005, also was named to the Arizona State Board of Education in March 2015. Carter has more than 40 years of experience as an education administrator.
Education Professionals Acknowledge Economic Impact of Schools
By Ray Newton, QCBN
Without hesitation, several experienced professional educators representative of different school districts in Yavapai County believe schools have a powerful but sometimes unrealized economic and social impact in the communities where they are located.
They express apprehension about the budget cuts, which have hammered schools throughout the state, resulting in reduced staffs, the cutting of programs and unfilled positions.
- Kathleen Fleenor, superintendent, Clarkdale and Jerome School District
“Yavapai County schools are some of the largest employers in the county. Despite that, recent cuts have forced many districts to restrict raises for all employees in an effort to keep them in the workforce. Districts constantly have to rob Peter to pay Paul. In other words, districts often have to cut classroom supplies to keep teachers – or forego new desks to instead buy books.”
- Joe Howard, superintendent, Prescott Unified School District
“The economic impact of schools in Prescott – or any area of our country – is extremely strong. A vast amount of research in communities across the nation shows the economic connection. From an economic development standpoint, one of the first questions that an interested business asks is how well the schools are supported. This is a challenge in Arizona because of the state’s reputation for being at the very bottom of the country in supporting education.”
- Cindy Daniels, assistant superintendent, Chino Valley Unified School District
T”he economic impact of our schools is this: schools are among the largest employers in many communities of the county. Many of our employees live in those communities where they work and contribute to the local economy by spending locally.”
- Julie Larson, retired superintendent, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.
“The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is one of the largest employers in the Verde Valley, with close to 300 employees. From teachers to nurses, food service staff to bus drivers, custodians to teacher aides, it takes a wide range of skills to makes schools function effectively. Additionally, school impacts the local economy through needs of students who purchased supplies for classes. I used to laugh when business owners told me to have more science fairs because the students bought so many supplies for their projects. Stores were delighted.”
Larson has nothing but praise for the YCESA, saying it is the glue that holds local schools together. “Because of positive support from the YCESA, schools in the county have necessary information to implement programs and spend funds in the manner in which they were intended.” QCBN