Do We Really Need 200 School Districts?

Stories from School Blogger Beth Maloney recently wrote the article The Problem with Teacher Pay in Arizona and One Possible Solution .  This interesting piece proposes that a statewide salary schedule will equalize pay for teachers while considering qualifications and experience. It is also a way to secure teacher retention.  I am in agreement with Maloney that this is something worth serious consideration.

Her article made me think about my early years as a teacher. I came into this field as a second career.  I was advised to shop around before signing a contract because a neighboring district could pay a good deal more or less than the one I just interviewed with.  I did not understand this.  I grew up on the east coast and attended the Prince George’s County School District. Although my schools were spaced far apart, they were all housed under the same framework.

I was shocked to learn that here in AZ, there are districts across the street from each other. In addition to this, each district had its own pay schedule and administrative staff from Superintendent on down. I remember thinking how wasteful this seemed. How different could these families, students, teachers, and communities be to justify this type of cost? Especially when it comes to administration.

Based on the answers I received and my research, I learned that that having multiple districts allow for local control which supports autonomy. As a teacher, I fully understand that. Yet, when funding is a major contributor to Arizona’s current education crisis, I wonder if this level of independence is something that we can afford.  How much of our education budget is actually hitting the classroom?

According to the report on Arizona’s school district spending for Fiscal Year 2016 , Arizona spends 53.5% of our education budget on instruction. This is 7.3% less than the national average.  At 10.4%, we are below the national average for administrative spending by .5%.  In addition to this, we spend more on everything else in the budget (plant operations, food services, transportation, student support, and instruction support). These areas have a direct impact on the classroom but are not linked under instruction.  Grouping student and instructional support with instruction would boost our cost per student to 67.4%, but still leaves us behind the national average by 3.8%.

These numbers make me wonder if there is still room to crunch down the administrative overhead of our education system.  Regardless of the national average, decreasing the number of districts would:

  • decrease the administrative budget
  • free up funds for direct instruction costs
  • allow resources to be shared without replication
  • support uninterrupted education and services to mobile families
  • provide continuity to teachers transitioning to other schools across the state
  • support retention of teachers that need to secure employment due to a change in location

When coupled with a statewide salary schedule, this unification and commonality across the state would make an even stronger impact on education.

I am proud of the recent teacher movements that are happening across the nation. I also support our #REDFORED movement here in  Arizona. In addition to self-advocacy, it is important to take fiscal responsibility and be creative with resources currently available. Especially when asking for more can easily equate to an increase in taxes.  So, again I ask if it is in our best interest to continue to fund the 200+ school districts here in Arizona or should we find a way to collaborate?

Additional resources to chew on:

Can Arizona Afford 217 School Districts?

Education Spending Per Student by State

Total School Districts, Student Enrollment by State and Metro Area

photo credit: wuestenigelWoman’s finger pointing at Bucharest City Map via photopin (license)

 

Yolanda Wheelington

Yolanda Wheelington

Phoenix, Arizona

Yolanda has taught for the past 7 years in the Phoenix Elementary School District. Her passion for developing and supporting the human potential is evident in the cross-curricular work done her classroom. She is a member of the Association Montessori International and is a RODEL Scholar. Yolanda earned a Bachelor’s in Psychology from The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.), a Master’s in Social Work and a Master’s in Education (Special Education) from Arizona State University, and a diploma in Lower Elementary Education for ages 6-12 from the Montessori Institute of North Texas.

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