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Dispelling rumors: dollars not getting to classrooms?

Student artwork Picture by Lake Havasu High School student Dana. It is here to showcase student art, and probably has nothing to do with the story on this page. See more Lake Havasu High art at www.artsonia.com.

On April 1st, our local newspaper ran a guest editorial written by a representative of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. The editorial was titled "Increased spending not getting to classroom."

The editorial states that in 2000, 57.7 cents of every Arizona education dollar was spent in the classroom. Ten years later it is 56.9 cents of every dollar, a downward trend for the state as a whole. The editorial did not say that Lake Havasu Unified beats state averages, spending 59.5 cents of every dollar in the classroom.

You might say 59.5 cents spent in the classroom sounds good compared to the state average, but why isn't it more?

The definition of "classroom dollars" is very narrow. The only things counted as classroom dollars for the purpose of this study are:

  • Classroom personnel—teachers, teachers' aides, substitute teachers, graders and guest lecturers. (The last two we do not have)
  • General instructional supplies—paper, pencils, crayons, etc.
  • Instructional aides—textbooks, workbooks, software, films.
  • Activities—field trips, athletics, and co-curricular activities such as choir and band. (Many of these expenses come out of tax credit for us.)
  • Tuition

There are many things we spend money on to serve our children that are not counted as classroom dollars. One good example is our nurses. Recently, Mary Ellen Thome, our traveling counselor at the elementary level, e-mailed me about the importance of nurses. She said, "There are students at every school who have chronic medical conditions who can, without warning, require the immediate attention of a health care professional." She listed students with diabetes, asthma, seizure disorder, severe allergies, and those needing daily medication as examples. She also pointed out that school nurses serve as the Homeless Liaison at each school.

We also have school psychologists, physical therapists, speech therapists, etc.—all of whom serve students (Some of these services are mandated by federal special education laws)—but these expenses are not counted as classroom dollars. Transportation and food service are also not counted as classroom dollars, but we know these services are very important to parents.

The editorial also said, "This year, we should be dubious of calls to increase taxes in order to save the schools. Clearly we can’t rely on school districts to get their priorities right." It is hard for me to even share that quote. We have our priorities straight! Our priority is student academic achievement and we have done that through both our literacy and math initiatives. We have seen our test scores rise. We clearly know the teacher is the most important element in academic achievement, and we provide training and support to continuously improve what we are doing in the classroom.

Two very important tax initiatives will be in front of the voter within the next seven months. The first will be next month with the 1 cent sales tax. The ballot language for this reads, "Two-thirds of the revenues shall be appropriated for public primary and secondary education." Our business director has informed us that, if the sales tax fails, we are looking at an almost 20% cut to education funding. How would we adjust? Do we close another school? If we do this, we will be on double sessions. Four of our six elementary schools are full. Do we cut programs? If we do, your children will no longer get a comprehensive education. Do we cut staff? How big do we want our class sizes? There are many difficult challenges ahead and we must work together to solve the current crisis in education.

The second tax initiative involves the renewal of our Override. On June 8, 2010, our governing board voted to put the override question on the ballot in November. See video of the board meeting.

It is really easy to criticize what you don’t know or understand. I need your help! Please share the good things that are happening in our school district—share your stories. Write a letter to the editor or an orchid. (People read the newspaper's "Orchids and Onions" section.) Get our story out there. We are the best advocates for our children.

Thank you.

Gail Malay
Superintendent, Lake Havasu Unified School District