With classroom spending in Arizona schools at a historic low, lawmakers and school administrators have turned their attention to standardizing student and teacher assessments as a way to cut expenses and improve student achievement.
Recent data show that the percentage of school funding spent in the classroom reached a historic low of 55.9 percent in fiscal year 2010, according to a March 1 report by the Arizona auditor general, with the rest gobbled up by overhead and administrative costs.
At the same time, a recent evaluation of 25 school districts in the state revealed that, while most school districts had assessments in place to determine whether students were on track, only about half of them were standardized and only about half had any sort of mandatory intervention policies for students that were not performing well.
Lobbyist and school district unification proponent Marty Shultz made the case to members of the Joint Legislative Study Committee on School District Unification and Consolidation that consolidating some school district functions could cut down on overhead costs and funnel more money into the classrooms.
“Large unified school districts spend more in the classroom and less in the administrative services,” Shultz said. “It’s just a fact of life, a fact of economics.”
One way school districts could save money is if the state created regional service centers to help develop new programs for measuring student and teacher performance, said Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter and Maricopa County Schools Superintendent Don Covey.
Carter emphasized that the centers should be voluntary, which prompted some members of the committee to question how effective they would be if districts aren’t forced to use them.
“Are we giving people too many choices? Are we making it too much of a cafeteria-type menu where you can choose this path or the other one?” asked Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa. “We want to give them choice, but at what point does it add to the confusion?”
But both Carter and Covey said that, by making it voluntary rather than mandatory, districts maintain local control.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, some attendees said that they disagreed with any unification efforts.
Rick Fields, a member of the Glendale Union High School District governing board, argued that voters emphatically rejected consolidation at the polls in 2008.
“I think the message was very clear that the electorate does not want unification because our system is not broken,” he said. Just because some schools and districts may be struggling, it is unfair to lump all of them together, he said.
He also said he was worried that the process of unification would cost too much money and end up taking more money from the individual schools in the long term, leading to increased class sizes and elimination of arts programs in the meantime.
Committee co-chair Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, said that she hopes the committee will start discussing the “nuts and bolts” of what they want to recommend and how it would be implemented at its next meeting on Nov. 21.