Finally, after several attempts, my district’s maintenance and operations budget override passed on election night. Let’s all raise our glasses shall we!!
The yes votes tallied 5,018 while the no votes came in at 4,164.
Two years ago the MUSD override failed for the sixth straight time; that year it was by more than 1,100 votes!
Tensions were high the entire time because of the timing of this year’s override. It was sandwiched between voters’ narrow approval of Proposition 123 and the state’s ongoing discussions on how to overhaul its complex school-funding formula. The number of school districts asking local taxpayers for assistance funding district public schools through approval of bonds and overrides this year was up 150 percent since 2008, from 20 to 50 of Arizona’s 238 school districts.
The impact of steep cuts in state funding from 2008 to 2012 was cited by many educational leaders as the cause of this increase. The Arizona Legislature cut per-student funding by 17.8 percent from 2008 to 2012, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report released in October 2014.
I was quite optimistic about the override this year because of the recent Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll. That poll showed over 74 percent of Arizona voters felt the state is not spending enough on public schools.
However, let’s not kid ourselves; even in my county, the no votes were still quite high. We know all too well that one of the main arguments used against passing an override is what some believe as the mismanagement of state dollars. There is this notion that public schools have a tendency to mismanage tax payer dollars, even when they receive millions in additional revenue. During this year’s override initiative, I also heard people in my community saying things like schools don’t need a lot of money to do a good job. They just need good teaching and management practices. The only response to this type of comment is educate, educate, educate. One of the main strategies supporters of the override used this year was creating an onslaught of materials to educate the public on the purpose of an override, why it’s needed and how it would be used. This 10 percent override will help pay for additional teachers, the hiring of more support staff, like counselors and librarians, introduce new programs and establish new curriculum, of which all would help reduce class sizes. Of the $3.1 million in override money, about $500,000 would be used annually for instructional technology, such as new computers and tablets. The override money would let the district hire up to 50 more teachers, reduce classroom sizes and help to continue extracurricular activities. However, for me, the most pressing need is the hiring of support staff and new teachers to reduce class sizes. This year, the only high school in my district has upwards of 40 students per class. How can any teacher meet the needs of so many students without sacrificing something of themselves, like their own mental well-being and health?
In one of the local papers in my community, a parent of an elementary student informed the newspaper his child “was in a classroom of 45 students with only one teacher and no aide.” He said after it became clear their child’s grades began to suffer as a result of the overcrowded classroom they began considering alternatives, such as home school. This article flashed a spotlight on an issue that can become quite abstract. 45 students is abstract; everyone knows it’s a high number, but it doesn’t mean anything until it becomes personal. The problem is that each of those 45 children is someone’s son or daughter; each has his or her own special needs, and each brings a host of other issues to the table every day. There is educational research to support that overcrowding is one of the leading root causes for failed schools as well as teacher dissatisfaction. Being teachers, we try to make it work, but at what cost? With larger classes, teachers are feeling more and more overwhelmed and burned out, and we run the risk of becoming ill or exhausted.
I am beyond ecstatic that the override was passed. Now we have to get to work on making sure we have reasonable class sizes and students’ and teachers’ needs are being met. Although teachers have always given more than they’re asked to give, there has to be a point where we stop saying yes and start saying enough is enough. Words cannot express how great it feels to finally have had community and parent support for this override.
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