So here in the East Valley, most of our large school districts had overrides -- Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe High School District, and Higley -- on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Those overrides would either maintain the current property tax rate or slightly increase it, depending on the district. The purpose of those overrides? To maintain the current level of funding, in most cases. And what do those overrides provide? For most schools, the vast majority of the funding goes to salaries and health insurance for their teachers.
In all of those districts, the overrides failed, and failed by substantial numbers. Just as Proposition 204 did, the flawed sales tax initiative that would’ve maintained the funding the temporary sales tax provided to schools.
So, today, as schools face the next year, here’s the reality.
The Legislature has cut more than $200 million from school funding in the last four years, only backfilling that cut a little in the last session. Federal stimulus money has run out. And now, all of our East Valley districts will see yet another cut in their budgets due to the defeat of 204. And most of our districts will see a further cut as a result of the override defeats, Gilbert alone losing almost $17 million.
And we all already know where Arizona stands in funding education, right at the bottom, with our state having the dubious distinction of having the greatest cuts in the country over the last few years.
So much less money plus even more requirements equals bitterness. Teachers understand that we live in economic times where the idea of a raise is impossible for some. But many teachers haven’t seen a raise even in economically good times. Young teachers -- dedicated, outstanding “keepers” -- are demoralized, ready to move to different careers.
And salaries are far from the only reason. They’ve seen themselves portrayed as Public Enemy Number One by some, propagandists dedicated to indoctrinating our youth with some kind of “socialist agenda.” They’re told that they are lazy, that they get three months vacation each year, that their benefits and salaries are too large, that they do a lousy job in the classroom.
It’s a drumbeat that is constant and politically advantageous to the cynical. Add to that the “education experts,” many of whom have never been in the classroom, telling teachers what and how to teach. Or the captains of industry who run charter schools that have “assessments” used to weed out the undesirable students, the same captains of industry who then turn around and say that all public schools should be like theirs, a delusional idea.
Do I sound bitter? You bet. As a retired teacher, I look at my younger former colleages still hard at it, still dedicated to making a difference in their students’ lives, still demanding much from them and from themselves, and I see their frustration with the unknowing critics, the uncaring parents, the uninformed “experts.” And I worry that they‘ll leave the profession and leave their students in the lurch. In defeating the overrides and Prop 204, you told teachers that you don’t believe they’re doing the job they’ve been hired to do. It’s depressing, deflating, and debilitating.
We still have much to do in reforming education, but we’re making progress. We demand more of our teachers now, and of our students. The mediocre teachers are no longer as secure in their jobs. And we can do more to weed out the worst teachers and reward the best.
But Arizona and the East Valley in particular sent a clear message to teachers in defeating Prop 204 and the overrides. And you better believe the teachers heard that message loud and clear. You’ve made your education bed, voters, now lie in it, as uncomfortable as it might soon be.