McClellan: Gilbert voters have health of schools in their hands - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

McClellan: Gilbert voters have health of schools in their hands

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 7:14 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Thu Sep 27, 2012.

‘Slightly worse than Alabama.”

Anytime that phrase is connected to your state, you ought to be a little worried.

And so, when a new study ranked Arizona as the worst in the nation for cutting spending to education for the last five years, a 22 percent drop, I thought of the upcoming override election here in Gilbert.

Gilbert Unified School District, like all districts across the state, have seen the funding the Legislature provides drop considerably over the past four years. To a degree, that’s understandable, given the near-Depression recession we are slowly recovering from. Beyond that, Arizona’s been on a slow slide in funding over the past decades. In fact, according to a 2009 ASU study, education spending as a portion of the budget in Arizona has fallen from 69 percent in 1979 to 57 percent in 2009.

Of course, some of those cuts are understandable. After all, if the majority of a state’s budget is for education, and the state is suffering from the same recession as the rest of the country, the Legislature had to make some serious cuts.

And Gilbert district endured cuts, over $20 million in the last few years. Those cuts, naturally, hurt. Larger class sizes, fewer resources for the kids and teachers.

But thanks to Gilbert residents, the budget cuts were not as severe as they could’ve been, because just a few years ago, the majority of Gilbert voters approved a continuation of the override that provides Gilbert schools with additional funding from property taxes.

Our school board has approved a vote to extend that override.

Which means?

In November, Gilbert residents once again have the health of their schools in their hands.

You’re going to hear plenty of arguments against the override, some focusing on the fact that an override is a tax -- which is true. And for some, any tax is a bad tax.

But it’s clearly not an increase. Unlike what Chandler school district is proposing, Gilbert is asking only to maintain the current tax level. Gilbert residents will not have their property tax rates rise because of the override.

Others will argue that there is massive waste in Gilbert public schools, that we should cut even more from the budget. But, I guess, the question is: How?

The school district’s already absorbed $20 million in cuts over the last four years. Some will argue that the district is top-heavy with administrators. But that is more perception than reality.

Try this: Only 8 percent of the $170,000,000 budget goes towards administrative costs. Which means? As much as some might believe Gilbert is administrator-heavy, we know that it’s ludicrous to believe just cutting administrative costs is a panacea. Without the override, the reality is that the district will cut an additional 10 percent from its budget, teachers will lose their jobs, programs will be eliminated, our students will suffer.

Let’s look at the reality of education funding. The state Legislature’s consistently cut funding for schools over the last few years. Some of those cuts have been augmented by federal stimulus money, the state’s one-cent sales tax, and our current override.

But the stimulus money has run out. The state sales tax might not be renewed. And the override? It ends next year.

But unlike with the stimulus and the sales tax, the override is entirely in our hands.

Our town was recently named by Money Magazine as one of the best in the nation. One major reason for that, says the magazine, is our outstanding schools, which recently earned an “A” by the state. Gilbert has always supported education. The override vote will not increase our taxes, but it will maintain the fine education our schools provide. Your vote for the override is crucial in keeping our district among the best in the state.

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