Arizona School Districts Prep 2 Budgets: With And Without Prop 123 Funds

Published: Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 8:23am
Updated: Thursday, May 5, 2016 - 2:35pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Josh Buckley is a teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa and the Vice President of the Mesa Teacher's Association.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Helen Hollands is Communications Director for Mesa Public Schools.

Josh Buckley has been a teacher in Arizona for the last 10 years. But for his first four years, he said he asked every year, “Do I have my job next year?”

“That happened to lots of teachers,” he said.

Now, he teaches economics to seniors at Dobson High School in Mesa. And he’s the Vice President of the Mesa Education Association, which lobbies on behalf of teachers in the district.

Every year, during the second semester, they meet with district representatives and go over the budget for the coming year.

“How much money has the district received this year? Are there any cuts this year?” he said of the process. “And then working out what that means for salary. What does that mean for benefits?”

But this year things are a little different. “This year we are doing, really, two budgets,” he said.

One, if education funding initiative Proposition 123 passes. And another if it doesn’t.

Prop 123 is asking voters statewide to approve a plan to inject $300 million a year into the state’s K-12 education system by pulling money out of the state’s land trust for the next decade.

It’s a settlement to a longstanding lawsuit over the under-funding of education during the Great Recession and voters are set to decide if the measure passes on May 17. But until then many Valley school districts are trying to plan for both scenarios — and they’re miles apart.

Hellen Hollands, Communications Director with Mesa Public Schools, said there are two different budgets being prepared depending on the outcome of Proposition 123.

“With Prop 123, we would see approximately $21.6 million in additional funds that we would have to allocate across the district,” she said. “Without it, it would be $7.5 million dollars.”

That’s a $14 million difference.

The lion’s share of the district’s operations money goes to salaries, wages and benefits for their employees, Hollands said. And, until voters decide the fate of Proposition 123, it leaves employees unsure of their compensation next year.

According to Buckley, the difference for teachers in Mesa is pretty stark. “Without Prop 123, Mesa’s budget sits at a 1 percent salary increase for teachers,” he said. And if it passes, he said every teacher in the district could get a $2,500 raise for the 2016-2017 school year, based on the provisional budgets the district has created.

“That’s the largest raise that teachers have seen in Mesa in a long time,” Buckley said.

Across the Valley, school districts are grappling with this uncertain future. “If it doesn’t pass, the budget will pretty much look like it does this current school year. If Prop 123 does pass, we’re putting all the additional funds into salaries,” said Laura Felten, Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations with the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

She said teachers are looking at up to a 3.6 percent raise if Prop 123 passes in that district.

In the Phoenix Union High School District, spokesperson Craig Pletenik said employees could get anywhere from a 1.5 percent to a 2.5 percent pay increase next year on top of a 3 percent increase this year because a portion of the funds from Proposition 123 are allocated for the 2015-2016 school year.

A Balz Elementary School District representative said they’re also looking at small raises for teachers, and in Cave Creek the superintendent said they would have to cut 63 positions if the proposition fails.

To Buckley, the bottom line is simple: “Prop 123 will inject money into the classroom that isn’t there.”

But not every teacher is singing the same tune.

Ralph Quintana, a teacher at Don Mensendick Elementary School in Glendale and President of the Arizona Federation of Teachers, said the proposition worries him. His union is a small group that’s affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but he said they’ve grown since Prop 123 became an issue.

He said some wealthier districts will be able to afford to give their teachers raises with Prop 123 money. But it’s still giving out funds based on a per-student basis, instead of looking at need.

“And for the inner city school, they’re just not going to be able to give the raises that some of the more affluent or rural districts are able to give,” Quintana said. Instead, he said that money will have to go to maintenance, new curriculums, supplies and materials that have been cut for years by the state legislature.

“If you’re in an inner-city school, a more poor school district, these things are going to permanently hurt us forever, for those 10 years,” he said.

But Buckley said there are a million students in public education right now, and you're essentially holding them hostage by not approving a funding package for schools now to figure out a better solution.

“This is a settlement to a lawsuit. That’s what it is. It doesn’t bump us up in rank in the state, this is just getting schools back money from the lawsuit that the state legislature didn’t pay,” he said. "There’s always going to be a better solution. Compromise is never pretty.”

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