The outcome of this year’s local elections could have a profound impact on elementary and high schools in Tempe, with four measures on ballot intended to boost school funding and teacher salaries.
Three of the measures would raise taxes Tempe homeowners pay in order to raise funding for schools, part of which would go toward raising teacher salaries.
The fourth and most controversial measure would merge the Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union High and Kyrene school districts, which advocates say would cut back on administrative costs and leave more money in the budget for funding programs and teacher salaries.
“Every district has a limited number of classroom dollars,” said Martin Schultz, chairman of the Arizona Department of Education Redistricting Commission. “We can reduce duplicative administrative costs.”
The measures are being offered as a response to a growing budget problem in Tempe school districts.
Monica Allread, spokeswoman for the Tempe Elementary School District, said last year, the elementary district cut about 10 percent of the maintenance and operations budgets of its administrative departments, which include areas such as curriculum, English Language Learning, transportation, human resources and information technology..
Despite the lack of adequate funding, Allread said, the school district has had to raise teacher salary from $33,000 two years ago to $35,000 now, in order to stay competitive in the market for new teachers, she said.
“We were one of the lowest [paying districts] in the East Valley, and we increased it to get in line with the surrounding districts,” Allread said. “Just like any other industry, we’re looking for the best and the brightest, and salary is very important to new college graduates.”
Schultz said merging the districts together would eliminate duplicative positions, such as superintendents and directors.
Such a cutback would allow the school board to spend more money on educational programs and raise the salaries of elementary school teachers to equal those of high school teachers.
“Elementary school teachers get paid much less than high school teachers,” Schulz said. “That may have been okay in 1920 … but research has shown how important early childhood education is.”
Opponents of the redistricting, including Tom Souner, the leader of activist group Preserve Kyrene, say merging the two districts will increase class sizes, lower academic standards and lower teacher salaries.
Souner said the cost of implementing the unification would take money out of the classroom.
“It’s going to cost tens of millions of dollars to implement [the unification], but there’s no funding for it,” Souner said.
Souner was also skeptical of the redistricting commission chairman’s claim that merging districts would cut administrative costs.
“There’s more administrative costs when [a school district] gets too big,” Souner said. “When there’s one superintendent for a mega-district, he can’t handle it, so they hire three administrative assistants.”
Less controversial are the three measures to raise taxes in order to fund a total of $12 million in budget overrides in the Tempe Union High School District, including $6 million for operations costs that include teacher salaries.
According to Support our Schools, a community group in favor of the measures, the cost of this override would be $5.62 for the average Tempe household, as reported on their Web site at yyysos.org.
Secondary education junior Alex Wong said although the measures would come at the expense of those who do not have children in the school system, the public has a responsibility to make sure teachers in public schools are paid adequately.
“At some point in your life, you’ve been inspired by a teacher,” Wong said. “Regardless of whether or not you have kids, you’ve been influenced by teachers, so you should pay them back.”
Sociology junior Alyssa Newcomb said the quality of teachers, affects everyone.
“It’s for the greater good,” Newcomb said. “Even if you don’t have kids in the system, you probably have friends or [family] that do.”
The affiliation of spokeswoman Monica Allread was incorrectly reported. Allread is spokeswoman for the Tempe Elementary School District. Some of Allread's comments were also incorrectly reported. Last year, the elementary district cut about 10 percent of the maintenance and operations budgets of its administrative departments, which include areas such as curriculum, English Language Learning, transportation, human resources and information technology. Individual schools' budgets were not cut. Also, the elementary district does not expect funding to drop next year because its enrollment is stable.
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