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Legislature can still help public schools

A Capitol Times op-ed by Ann O’Brien, ASBA president

When the Gilbert Unified School District announced last week that it would be eliminating 150 positions to close a budget shortfall, as an elected governing board member, I had two thoughts: “I’m glad I’m not first,” and “it didn’t have to be this way.” 

Gilbert was the first district to announce position eliminations to balance its budget due to a decline in funding, but it almost certainly won’t be the last, as districts that did not receive a large infusion of federal funds grapple with their budgets due to the added expenses associated with serving students throughout the pandemic. 

A year ago, at the outset, educational leaders knew that public schools would play a central role in the community response to the pandemic, both practically and politically. Practically, they have not only had to continue to deliver educational services, but also feed hungry families, help the economy by continuing to employ large numbers of Arizonans, avoid becoming epicenters for virus spread, and most recently, provide COVID vaccine sites for school staff and others.  

Politically, schools have been a flashpoint from day one. In my district, parents accused the district of disregarding student safety by continuing in-person instruction when case numbers were fairly low. Later on, a different yet equally vocal group of parents accused the district of harming students by staying remote during the highest case numbers we had seen yet. 

As the statewide organization representing Arizona’s public-school districts and their elected governing boards, the Arizona School Boards Association has kept its eye to the future. We, along with our partner organizations, understood that in order to be there for the community after the pandemic, we would need to change the way we do business during it. We knew that all the hard work the state had put into raising teacher salaries and education funding over the last five years could be undone in a year. We knew distance learning would impact enrollment, and we asked the governor and Legislature right away to consider freezing funding for one year at the 2020 level. They declined. 

Instead, we were told our funding would be reduced by 5 percent due to distance learning and a grant program of federal funds would make up the difference, holding us to a 2 percent loss. That funding did not materialize. Instead, the more than $250 million that the state “saved” by funding schools at a reduced rate is contributing to the state’s healthy budget surplus. 

In January, we told legislative leaders that, without additional temporary funds, the legacy of increasing education funding that so many of them are eager to claim was at risk. 

Meanwhile, federal funds for education relief are targeted to the poorest districts. While on its face that makes sense, it leaves a gap for medium- to higher income districts as well as many smaller rural districts, most of which are represented by members of the legislative majority. 

It didn’t have to be this way, and it still doesn’t. We still have time to keep additional districts from having the same experience as our colleagues in Gilbert did. The Legislature should use a portion of the state surplus to ensure that all districts receive the necessary support to avoid large reductions. 

In the latter stages of this pandemic, the arguments have been reduced to in-person versus distance learning, with each side maintaining their way is the best way. As always, the truth is more complicated. Each school district in the state was left to chart its own path until recently, and no two districts did things exactly the same. A district’s response to the pandemic depended heavily on community sentiment, available staffing, additional resources and, frankly, community cooperation. As focused as the public and the Legislature have been on pointing fingers at who has done it better, Arizona’s school districts have been focused on getting it done. 

This pandemic will end. And when it does, Arizona’s students will return to school. If we are to have any hope of minimizing the impact of this year on students, we can’t begin from behind. We need to make sure that our teachers are there to serve our students in person, with appropriate class sizes and proper certification. 

Doing so will not only help students, but it will also help keep more Arizonans employed. Fortunately, doing what’s best for students is also usually best for the economy. Arizona’s public schools are not the enemy. They are the way to restore public trust and confidence, and the surest sign that Arizona is coming back. We can come back weaker, or we can come back stronger. 

The op-ed was published on April 6 in the Arizona Capitol Times.

New superintendent evaluation tool pilots this summer

ASBA is partnering with the Arizona School Administrators to develop a comprehensive, standardized, evidence-based and flexible evaluation tool for school boards to utilize when administering the statutorily required yearly performance evaluation of the superintendent. 

The goal is to create a tool that is easily administered and effective. ASA and ASBA have formed a diverse work group of superintendents and school board members from across Arizona, including urban, suburban, rural and remote districts as well as elementary, union high school, unified, CTED and transportation districts to participate in development of the evaluation tool.  

The work group is currently meeting with the goal of having a pilot evaluation tool ready for districts who want to participate in a pilot program beginning in July 2021. The pilot program will be open to all Arizona school districts who want to participate and will include trainings for boards who participate. 

ASBA and ASA are excited to collaborate on this project and are confident the end product will be a welcome addition to any superintendent evaluation process. Find more information on the ASBA website.

Meet ASBA’s Maricopa Co County Director, Jill Humpherys

Get to know ASBA’s Board of Directors by reading their profile.

Name, district and county: Jill Humpherys, Gilbert USD, Maricopa County

How long have you been a board member? Eight years

How do you define leadership in school boardsmanship? In school boardmanship, a leader must be collaborative in decision making and make certain all voices are heard by seeking input from students, families, staff, and the community. A leader must remember the 5 C’s: children, community, common ground, consensus and constraints. A school board member is not at the top but rather at the bottom, supporting and lifting up the superintendent, staff, students and families.

What is your favorite ASBA conference/event and why? It is hard to choose one, but the Law Conference is always terrific! I love listening to Jim Walsh, school attorney from Texas. I always gain insights from his talks.

What do you like best about serving on the ASBA Board of Directors? I get to connect with other board members from around the state and we work well together.

How has ASBA helped you become a better school board member? ASBA helps me better myself as a board member, gives me the big picture, helps me build relationships with other board members, and gives me needed information to make good decisions for students.

Grab your VIP tickets to watch Calvin Terell’s keynote! Equity Event, April 22-23

You don’t need VIP tickets to have the best seat in the house when you hear this Equity Event keynote speaker! We all get front row access this year.

Hear Calvin Terrell speak at ASBA’s Equity Event, Thursday, April 22 on “Evolutionary Education for Global Readiness: An Equitable Path to Justice for All.” Also, join him for a bonus session!

Calvin Terrell, Founder and Lead Facilitator, Social Centric Institute

In Calvin’s opening keynote, he will address the need for school boards to take proactive approaches to equity. Via sharing of real life scenarios and effective approaches from districts he has worked with across the country.

For the past 25 years, Calvin Terrell has lectured trained and lead comprehensive workshops for valuing diversity, equity and justice-building in schools, corporations, and civic organizations for thousands of adults, children and youth throughout the United States. He is founder and lead facilitator of Social Centric Institute, an organization he designed to provide education and training for all ages to enhance human interactions and global progress.

He is a former assistant director of the National Conference for Community Justice/Anytown USA Arizona Region, has taught for Upward Bound at Arizona State University and the Arizona National Guard’s Freedom Academy, and is a past recipient of the City of Phoenix Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream Award.

Learn more!

Teacher/Administrator Salary results are ready! Check your email inbox

ASBA is pleased to release the results of the FY21 Teacher and Administrator Salary and Benefits Survey which were emailed to all members last week with link and password.

All Arizona school district members of ASBA had the opportunity to complete the survey between Feb. 8, 2021, and March 1, 2021. The survey response rate was 38 percent. Thank you to those who took the time to participate! The completers, when viewed as a whole, are representative of Arizona school districts. The proportion of completers by district type, county, enrollment and geographic location is comparable to completers of the annual ASBA Superintendent Salary and Benefits Survey, which was released to members in January 2021.

The purpose of the ASBA Teacher and Administrator Salary and Benefits Survey is to provide comparative data to school district leaders to use when making decisions related to salaries and benefits for teachers, principals, assistant principals and district-level administrators. All data was self-reported by school districts, using an online collection tool provided by ASBA. Data requested was for the 2020-2021 school year (FY21). Responses to questions 1-3, which asked for name and contact information for the completer, are not included in this document. Responses to questions 67-80 (district-level staff salaries) are provided in table form and include data on county, enrollment and location for each responding district.

All member districts receive this summary document. Districts that completed the survey will receive the full data set in an Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet also includes data on FTE teachers per district, life insurance benefits provided to teachers and administrators, and maximum allowable life-of-employment accrual and payout at end of employment of paid time off and sick leave.

Check your email box for the salary survey report with password. More information can be found the ASBA website.

April #Wed Webinar: Making the Superintendent Evaluation Process Meaningful

Join the discussion on April 14, 4 p.m. to learn more about the strategies to evaluate the process of a superintendent.  

April 15, 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Making the Superintendent Evaluation Process Meaningful

AZEdNews Highlights: How strengthening connections helped stabilize enrollment

Schools’ efforts to connect families with resources they need helped stabilize enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic at Creighton School District, and school leaders hope those strong relationships will help next year too. Here’s what worked…read more

Simple, pooled COVID-19 testing for K–12 schools, Test every student, every week

Join informational session, Thursday, April 8, 2 p.m.

This is an opportunity to learn more about pooled testing for COVID 19 that a partnership of ASU and Sonora Quest labs here in Arizona is hoping to get funded by the state with money set aside for school testing by the American Rescue plan. Concentric by Ginkgo is the largest nationwide provider of front-end pooled COVID testing for K-12 schools. Join them on a webinar, Thursday April 8, 2 p.m. and learn about how to evaluate, fund, and operate a pooled COVID testing program at your school.

The program of choice for Massachusetts, Baltimore, Newark, Los Angeles and hundreds of communities across America.

Relief funding and federal guidelines recommend and support asymptomatic screening.

Pendergast ESD earns top honor in 2021 Magna Awards Program for equity work

ASBA is happy to announce that Pendergast ESD is a National School Boards Association (NSBA) 2021 Magna Award winner for its Arizona State University Prep Digital Program. The district was recognized for its commitment to equity as a first place winner in the 27th annual Magna Awards program. Pendergast ESD is one of 15 winners – three Grand Prize and 12 first place winners across the nation receiving this honor.

Sponsored by NSBA’s flagship magazine, American School Board Journal, the Magna Awards honor districts across the country for their programs that advance equity and break down barriers for underserved students.

Click the AZEdNews article featuring more in-depth information about the program.

Upcoming ASBA Events

April 14, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Wednesday Webinars: Making the Superintendent Evaluation Process Meaningful

April 28, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm: Wednesday Webinars: Building More Inclusive and Effective Student, Family and Staff Surveys

Plus more! You can find all Wednesday webinars on the ASBA webpage, https://azsba.org/events-asba/. Can’t view the webinar live? No problem. Go ahead and register and you will receive the recording automatically by email so you can view it later. There is no cost to register for this webinar.  We encourage advance registration.

Registration closes April 14: Virtual Equity Event, April 21-23

SPECIAL FOCUS: CULTURE, RACE AND ETHNICITY 

Since the founding of The Equity Event seven years ago, we have unwrapped the many influences, characteristics and circumstances that impact our students and contribute to gaps in opportunity and outcomes, among them family income, access to food and shelter, physical and cognitive ability, gender and gender identity, immigration status, and even the location of the student’s home and the district itself.

Culture, race and ethnicity intersect with all those factors and are woven deeply into the lives of each and every student we serve. The heightened local, state and national dialogue around racial equity compels us as leaders to look at race more deeply.

At this year’s Equity Event, we’ll investigate these rich, human aspects of our students and ourselves so that we can serve every student well and justly moving forward.

Featuring Arizona poet laureate Alberto Rios and a special reading of his poem “A House Called Tomorrow.” 

AZEDNews Featured Articles

Rep. Udall asks AZ Dept. of Ed to send remaining federal COVID funds to schools to prevent teacher layoffs & Supt. Hoffman’s response

How COVID-19 vaccinations for ages 16 and up could affect AZ high schools

#Legislative Legit: Senate Finance passes open enrollment bill a day after House Ed strikes it from agenda

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