Scottsdale Unified School District Budget Over Ride 2009

The Scottsdale Unified School District is requesting approval to continue the budget override of $3.4M for each of the three fiscal years from 2010 to 2012. The money is to support education in Kindergarten through third grade. The funds will maintain programs and staffing at current levels. It is not for new hires or initiatives. Without this $3.4M, funds will phase out by one third or $1.16M each year from 2010-2012.

Dr. David Peterson, a school district official, explained the consequences to me in greater detail on Oct 9. Dr. Peterson stated “We will lay off 58 teachers, gradually reducing the payroll during 2009 to meet the 2010 targets. In Kindergarten the student to teacher ratio would increase from 21 to 26 to 1. Grades one to three the increase would be from 24 to 28 to 1. This obviously allows for less attention to each student at time when it is the most critical.

“Repeated national studies..” Dr Peterson continued.. “have shown the most effective impact on learning is in the Kindergarten through third grade. This is where kids learn interaction with peers in both work and play with associated pressure; adherence to predetermined if somewhat flexible schedules; basic skills in reading, mathematics, computer operations, fine arts, physical education, and personal hygiene. Right now, Arizona ranks among the lowest of all states in funding education and provides no additional support for Kindergarten to third grade.”

Let me say something based on 34 years in both an office and in the field viewing test and evaluation. It has been said often. Employees can do their ongoing jobs well if they work together in common goals. Too often I have seen useless pressure, missed deadlines, high turnover, and even illness because teamwork was nonexistent. All of us have seen such things as calling attention to a person’s mistake, faking outrage when correcting it would take minutes; backbiting and talking about others; and foolish complaints about behavior. If children can learn how counterproductive and harmful this is at an early age, perhaps they will carry it to adulthood. While realizing this ideal will never happen, we can make some improvement.

I was also surprised about the computer skills children have even before they hit Kindergarten. The school has four to six computers in each classroom to allow shared usage. Students can work together to learn graphics, spreadsheets, word processing, basic research, and listen to music. Students will inevitably have clashing ideas as to the best output. Here again the kids will learn the basics of dealing with differences, tactful persuasion, and compromise. Dr. Peterson also told me there is a room with nothing but computers for special projects and lengthy assignments. Either we all learn to deal with people with different life styles, opinions, and tastes or we won’t deal with others at all.

Dr. Peterson stated “.. that I sometimes think that classroom instruction is the easiest part. The criteria for success or failure is extremely personal. Virtually every student has strong skills in some areas, weaknesses in others, or perhaps health issues that require special attention. Addressing the individual’s unique needs is where the override is most important. Understand please, that no student will ever receive all the attention he or she deserves. Even so, the school district can increase the time spent with each student to give help along the way. Parent and teacher cooperation is an indispensable part of this process. I want our teachers know every parent and see and talk with them several times each year.”

I got this impression from Dr. Peterson of what cooperation is all about. Parents and teachers see the student with differences in times, circumstances, moods, and other people. Each fills in for the other the missing parts of the picture. This student’s picture is always fuzzy and fluid. Nevertheless, the more teachers know about a student, the better the instruction will be. Teachers must also make certain that lesson learned at school follow through at home. As a example, we do not want to teach students good study habits and revert to other standards after hours. Parental oversight is critical since kids will be kids might not be responsible.

The budget override will also allow the Scottsdale Unified School District to continue the classes for gifted students. They want to utilize each student’s full potential. It is not fair to put everyone together and expect them to learn at the same rate.

I had talked with Dr. Peterson before and learned allot about teaching and polices with Scottsdale Schools. While the district has never done anything seedy, I was still somewhat suspicious. My misgivings stemmed from the media reporting how corporations were spending the federal bail out money. I thought the funds would support employee training, additional severance pay, retirement funds, the purchase of new equipment, and the maintenance and construction of new plants. Instead I see, bold as brass, executives flying into Washington on company jets, bonuses for executives, and travel junkets at big resort hotels. Several hotels here in Phoenix benefited from this extravagance.

Dr. Peterson probably deals with this type of question often. He told me…”that Arizona law is very specific in how school districts can spend the money they receive. Because we have these programs currently in place, the renewal of the override will allow us to continue them. District Committee and external accountants audit the funds from this override each year to ensure they are being spent as promised.

Supporters of this override include the Mayor of Scottsdale, Jim Lane, the mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon, the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, the Dial Chemical Corporation, and other businesses in the area. Many sincere citizens say that Scottsdale cannot spend this money in these hard times. While their feelings are understandable, I believe just the opposite-our current woes make this override even more important. We cannot let up in maintaining our competitive position.

We the voters, through supporting short sighted policies, inadequate regulations, and poor economic planning, created these problems. Let’s work to reverse them, which will take years. In the meantime, our school kids should not pay the price. I will vote “YES” for $3.4M override on November 3rd.

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