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District preps legislative wish list for next session

In a departure from the past, the Lake Havasu Unified School District will submit a number of suggestions to the Arizona School Board Association on topics to lobby in support of during next year’s legislative session.

According to Board President John Masden, the district could continue not to provide input, but that it is in their best interest to change course and send along what they would like the association to focus on when talking to lawmakers.

“When you don’t use your voice you lose it,” Masden said.

Always one to take charge, board member Nichole Cohen has submitted her top four priorities.

“Number one, I think they should lobby to redefine classroom spending as promised by the governor in 2015,” Cohen said. “This should include instruction, instructional support, and student support.”

Also on Cohen’s list is for the association to lobby the Arizona Department of Education to restore technology funding that includes the mechanism on how school districts are paid, which is 20 years old.

“Microsoft stopped supporting this in 2010 and if it breaks we are in trouble,” Cohen said. “The department has had their tech budget cut $2.4 million which was for the system replacement.”

Cohen added in her suggestions to include the auditor general require charter schools to publicly post their budgets, and the association lobby for federal public lands be returned to state control.

“I think the lands part is something I’m glad (Cohen) hit on,” Masden said. “One of the big problems is our tax base. Forty-two percent of Arizona land belongs to the federal government and it’s kind of hard to tax something that the federal government has control of.”

Educators say, by releasing federal lands back to the states and increasing the local tax base school districts would benefit.

Tops on Masden’s list for the school board association to focus on would be to make the state’s school voucher program more equitable.

“I think paying someone to send a child to a private school or being homeschooled at a higher rate than our district gets reimbursed I think there is a problem there,” he said.

Masden would also advocate for a change in the education funding formula that would address the business of schools in the 21st century.

“I would like to see us take this thing apart in the next legislative session and get a handle on what is in there,” Masden added.

Diana Asseier, LHUSD superintendent also weighed in on her lobbying wish list.

“One of the areas … that has been an issue for us is current year funding,” Asseier said. “We have to project; we have to revise, if you guess too high or guess too low there are issues. It puts a huge burden on our business office to be constantly dealing with this.”

Arizona public district schools receive funding based on the number of students that attend their school. Typically, the funding calculation was based on the total number of students that schools had the year prior, which allowed them to plan and create budgets for the following year with a reasonable level of predictability.

Beginning this school year, the Legislature put a measure in place that requires schools to be funded based on the number of students attending their schools in the current year.

“At least with prior year funding you can at least count on the (numbers) and budget for it then adjust for the following year,” Asseier said.

Although the board and district officials are not sure if their voice will be heard by the school board association they cannot remain silent any longer.

“I believe it is a protest vote to send anything,” Masden said. “But, I think we should send our protest vote this year because we really haven’t been sending anything. Sometimes you have to throw the piece of paper into the wind and see if it’s going to make it through or not.”

 

(by David Louis, Today's News-Herald : May 14, 2018)

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