Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teachers, Students, We Have a Problem. Act Now!

Arizonans, do you want your children's schools to be stable and not have a transitory collection of teachers moving through each year? Do you want teachers to have an opportunity to build their craft and become expert instructors? Do you want educators to continue to be able to advocate for educational issues about which they are passionate?

Below I have pasted the summary of the current Arizona budget proposal that will most likely end up on Governor Brewer's desk today. Even more shocking than the slashes to state revenue are the ridiculous controls the bill puts on teachers and school districts. Why are these seeming punishments in the budget bill? Ask your legislators, especially if they are Republicans.

This summary was published on the AEA Website. Make sure you scroll down to see the new regulations on the teaching profession:

FY2010 Governor - Republican Leaders Budget Printer Friendly Page

(Fiscal Year 2010: July 1, 2009 � June 30, 2010)

This is a summary of the major budget and policy items in the negotiated FY10 deal between Governor Brewer and Senate President Burns and House Speaker Adams.


Sales Tax (HCR2037)

-Ballot proposition to voters at the November 3, 2009 election for one percent sales tax increase to be in effect for three years starting on January 1, 2010 . The tax money generated will be used with two-thirds going to K-12 and higher education and one-third going towards health and human services and public safety. Any revenues collected during FY10 (January 1, 2010 � June 30, 2010), must first be used to decrease the reductions in state spending for education. (Estimated revenue derived from this sales tax: $450 million available for FY10 with a total three-year impact of approximately $3 billion).

Flat Tax (HB2653)

-Replaces the current graduated individual income tax with a flat tax rate of 2.8% beginning in FY12. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $450 million per year.

Single/Married Filing Separate income brackets

Married Filing Joint/Head of Household income brackets

Current Individual Income Tax Rates

New Rate with the Flat Tax

$0 - $10,000

$0 - $20,000



$10,001 - $25,000

$20,001 - $50,000



$25,001 - $50,000

$50,001 - $100,000



$50,001 - $150,000

$100,001 - $300,000



$150,001 and over

$300,001 and over



-Establishes a Task Force to determine the final individual income tax rate to be in effect in 2012 (the charge of the Task Force would prevent the rate from exceeding 3%).

Permanent Repeal of the State Equalization Property Tax�aka the school tax (HB2644)

-Permanently repeals the state equalization property tax. This is a loss of revenue to the state of approximately $250 million per year.

Reduction of Assessment Ratio for Business� Secondary Property Tax (HB2644)

-Phases down the assessment ratio for secondary property tax purposes on business property from 20% to 15% beginning in tax year 2012.

o Tax year 2012 = 19%

o Tax year 2013 = 18%

o Tax year 2014 = 17%

o Tax year 2015 = 16%

o Tax year 2016 = 15%

There is no estimate for the loss of this revenue stream at the local level. As business� taxes decrease, homeowner�s taxes must increase to generate the equivalent amount of money for school district bonds and overrides.

Vehicle License Tax (VLT) used to offset basic state aid (HB2644)

-Sweeps $22 million in VLT from cities and towns in FY10 to pay a portion of basic state aid for education.

-Note: This amount is reduced from the $95 million VLT sweep found in the budget that passed on June 4. The $53 million VLT sweep from the counties is completely out. The $42 million VLT sweep from the cities has been reduced to $22 million.


Fails to actually fund the 2% inflation to school districts (HB2648)

-Section 9 in HB2648 sets the base level for FY10 at $3,267.72 which gives school districts the full 2% inflation factor. However, in section 25, there is a notwithstanding clause which then removes the 2% inflation to the base and instead sets the base level at $3,201.89 for FY10.

From a historical standpoint, here are the base funding levels for the past two fiscal years:

-2007-08 school year (FY08): $3,226.88

-2008-2009 school year (FY09): $3,291.42

-2009-2010 school year (FY10): $3,201.89 (this is the actual base level amount per student that a school district will receive)

The $3,201.89 amount for FY10 results in an amount that includes the reduction of the $121 million in education funding cuts that were part of the FY09 budget fix passed on January 31, 2009.

Soft Capital Reduction

-Delays the $175 million additional cut to soft capital until January 1, 2010. The general appropriation trailer bill (HB2643) restores this funding if sufficient excess revenues are available by December 2009.

-School districts with fewer than 600 students will be impacted with only half of this reduction.

-Of the remaining statewide allocation of soft capital funds (approximately $23 million total), a district may use their local share for any operating expenses.

No Funding for Utility Costs

-Fails to provide any funding for the new utility formula that was passed last session for �excess utilities� (this is an $80 million cut to school districts that previously levied for �excess utilities�).

Teacher Performance Pay

-Reduces the Career Ladder program funding by 0.5% for FY10 (from 5.5% to 5%) and limits this program only to teachers who participated in FY09 (the 2008-09 school year).

-Reinstates the new but unfunded teacher performance pay program that was established last session (the �Gilbert School District� proposal to provide the additional Career Ladder funding to all school districts).

Overrides and Bonds

-Repeals the single ratio assessment for all voter-approved overrides and bond elections found in the budget that passed on June 4.

-Extends the timeframe during which a school district can issue a bond from six years to ten years after obtaining voter approval (this is only for future bonds to be approved by voters).

-Permits a school board to cancel an override election scheduled for November 2009 up to 10 days before the election.

-Raises the maximum budget increase a school district may request for a Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Override from 10% of the Revenue Control Limit (RCL) to 15% of the RCL.

-Establishes a Special Program Override by expanding the scope of the K-3 Override to allow for a program to be designed for any or all of the K-12 students. Specifies that the maximum amount a school district may request for an M&O Override is 10% of the RCL if the school district also requests a Special Program Override.

-Authorizes a school district, for FY10, to conduct an election in March 2010 and submit one of the following proposals to the voters of the district:

- A 15% M&O override that, if approved, replaces any previously authorized M&O and K-3 overrides.

- An additional 5% M&O or Special Program override if the voters of the school district authorize a 10% M&O override at the November 2009 election.

- A 17% M&O override for a common school district if an M&O and K-3 override are still in effect on this bill�s effective date. The 17% override, if approved, replaces any previously approved M&O and K-3 overrides and continues for the number of years of the previously approved K-3 override.

-Permits a school district to issue Class B bonds for furniture, equipment, and technology provided that the bonds mature within five fiscal years after the bonds are issued.

Policy Changes Targeted Against Teachers & Association Members

-Prohibits school district employment contracts from including compensated days for professional association activities.

-Prohibits a school district from adopting policies that provide employment retention priority for teachers based on tenure or seniority.

-Removes the current prohibition against school districts reducing the salary of a tenured teacher except under a general salary reduction applied equitably to all tenured teachers.

-Removes the contract dates (between March 15 and May 15) in which districts are required to offer teaching contracts for tenured teachers. Thus, there will be no date in statute set for contracts and school districts will each set their own contract notification deadline.

-Eliminates the May 15 statutory deadline for notice of salary reduction. Instead allows each school district to set its own salary reduction deadline for teachers.

-Removes current statute that requires a school board to notify a provisional teacher of nonrenewal by April 15; thus, there will be no date in statute set for this notification.

-Removes the current statutory requirement for a school district to give a preferred right of reappointment to a job for a teacher who has lost his/her job through the reduction in force (RIF) process if a job becomes available within three years of the RIF process.

-Reduces the time frame for requesting a hearing on dismissal or long-term suspension from 30 days to 10 days.

-Reduces the amount of a time a school district must allow a teacher to correct inadequate classroom performance from 85 instructional days to 60 instructional days.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sweetness is not Dead

Saturday was the big end-of-camp Tennis Bonanza at Randolph Tennis Center (soon to be named the Jim Refkin Tennis Center).

G., my wandering boy who likes to pretend his racquet is a machine gun when he is in a certain mood, did really well with the 7 a.m., 5-week camp. Well, for him. He participated in warm-ups, tried hard on most games, and socialized pretty well with the other children (minus the machine guns.) For him, this was big. He spent most of last spring in Little League counting how many players were on the field. When his team returned to the dugout, he would keep running through the dugout, out the gate, and into the stands to check in with us. He couldn't remember his teammates names, for the most part. He spent many music classes this year, when the students were supposed to sing or do movements in unison, rolling on the floor and refusing to participate. It was good to see him, for the most part, checked in. The biggest issue was that he wanted more stars for the star chart, but still wasn't a completely focused team player, not a top star-earner.

When, during the second half of the Tennis Bonanza, Coach Megan announced that each site would be awarding three trophies (one for stars, one for improvement, and one for sportsmanship), G. immediately started crying. He knew none of those were for him, and boy, did he want a trophy. I scootched him close to me and whispered in his ear that he would get a t-shirt, whispered how well he had done and how much fun he had had, how most of these kiddos would not be headed home with a trophy, and how what was really important was that he knew for himself that he was learning a lot about tennis and getting better. I reminded him that I worked really hard as a teacher, and hadn't gotten one trophy, but that what was important was what we knew we could do, and what we decided to do better next time. He tried so hard to be a good sport, but he couldn't manage to clap and be happy for the others who had won.

He cried all the way to the Parents' Lounge where we stood in line to pick up his T-shirt, pointing out along the way all the bouncy children holding trophies, unable to see the other dozens of children without trophies.

As we stood in line, a mom came up behind me, surreptitiously holding a star trophy: "Would he like to have this?" I said, "Are you sure?" She said that her son was big, and didn't care at all about the trophy. I turned to find him and make eye contact, and found the friendly face of a 15 year-old who clearly loved tennis, and had learned that the little 4-inch trophy was not what it was all about. He waved off the trophy, and I mouthed a thank you and hid it behind my back while G. got his T-shirt. He turned back around, and I held the trophy up.
"What's that?" he asked, still teary-eyed.
"It's for you." I handed him the trophy and the tears dried up. A look spread across G.'s face: happiness, relief, accomplishment. Two thoughts swirled in my head: "Miracle" and "Cry and get what you want." I had decided to allow him his moment and get what he wanted.
He commenced with a long list of questions designed to tell him exactly how this trophy came into his hands.
I asked him, "Do you think that you deserve it?"
He said yes.
I said, "Then it's for you!"

We passed another 7-year-old perched on a wall, wearing his new NJTL shirt over his other clothes. "Lucky!" he called out to G. That boy would go home with no trophy.

What stays with me is the sweetness of the teen boy and/or his mother who had the thought of making G.'s day, without even knowing if he deserved it. They may not realize that they helped to recognize the growth he made this summer. I do hope that G. will learn that it is not all about the trophy, and that he can't always expect trophies when it is a competition, and that he needs to focus on himself, what he can do, and what he can do better, but for the moment, he feels acknowledged and validated in a way that apparently ice cream and t-shirts can't do.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Boisterous education rally briefly shuts state House doors

Boisterous education rally briefly shuts state House doors

Click above and check out what happened in Phoenix today! I wish I could have been there...

Now if only we could keep the equalization tax and get rid of the sales tax increase, I think that would be real progress. There are a lot of bad compromises in this budget, but I am relieved to see "only" a 5% cut to education vs. the worst-case scenario 18% we heard about earlier this year. Right now I am not sure if that 5% is k-12 or K-university.

To all the Republican legislators out there who are using the budget crisis as an opportunity to continue to chip away at the entire public education system: Public Education definitely needs reform, but what alternative is there ready and waiting in the wings, people? Even vouchers, charters, etc. are publicly funded. Hello! Look at the corporate-sponsored charter schools. Sure, some are excellent, but the vast majority are mediocre, a factory approach from the school end, and a product chosen by consumers looking for a way to "get credits" for graduation. In the public schools in which I have taught, the vast majority of the teachers and administrators I have known have worked to get much more out of their students, and to provide more for them. I just don't see a business model working well in an area that requires mostly altruism, idealism, hard work in good faith, and the belief in the democratizing power of education.

We need to work toward a long-term, stable commitment to funding a successful public education system in Arizona, including the charter school system. And the funding needs to come not just from sales taxes, which are fickle, and which burden the already-stressed working class. Businesses need to shoulder more of the tax burden, and the state equalization property tax wouldn't hurt, either.

One more comment: The idea that teachers and those in education "feed from the trough" of state funding is f-ing sickening. So do the legislators! So does the Governor! So do Highway Patrol officers! So do Child Care Protective Services workers. Why do legislators beat up on school teachers and not land developers, payday loan sharks, etc., etc.? That is a load of crap. Forgive my little trip to the gutter of the English language. It will get worse if I go on, so I will stop now.

Just my two-cents based on the information I have.

Shared via AddThis

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Urgent Budget Letter to State Legislators

Please write your state legislator (whom you can find at http://www.azleg.gov/) in support of funding public education without a sales tax increase. Republican leadership refuses to hand over the budget they passed June 4 to Governor Brewer because she said she would veto it. They have totally stalled out budget negotiations. Here's what I sent today.

Message sent to the following recipients:
Representative Bradley
Representative Farley
Senator Aboud
Message text follows:

Amethyst Hinton Sainz
3xx xxxxxx
Tucson, AZ 85XXX

June 25, 2009

[recipient address was inserted here]

Dear [recipient name was inserted here],

Thank you for your ongoing support of public education. Through my
experience of moving to TUSD after 13 years of teaching, becoming RIFfed,
having the opportunity to lobby, and keeping more up to date on the budget
process at the state level, I have learned SO much, and have finally
learned a little bit about who represents me at the state level.

I am proud to be able to say that you are my representative. So often
throughout these battles, we are hearing about the ideology of many
senators and representatives who do not believe in public education and
truly do not care to fund it. In the face of this complete ignorance of
the role of public education in this state, I applaud you for holding true
to this most democratic and equalizing of ideals: an educated citizenry.

I am beginning to despair, but please do everything you can to fund
education without relying on an additional sales tax. To me, this is
allowing businesses to continue to retain unfair tax advantages while the
strapped middle class is being asked to shoulder more and more of the
burden of educating the future employees and customers of these
businesses. It is just too much.

Please do whatever you can over the next week.


Amethyst Hinton Sainz

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

21st Century Writing Skills and Job Searches

I want to share a recent NPR story about how employers expect applicants to have moved beyond the paper resume. The interesting thing is that I don't think this is true in the teaching field. When I go to school district websites to look for job openings, most of what we must submit is in hard-copy, such as a six page common application for Pima County schools which is distributed as a downloadable .pdf file. Without a full version of Adobe Acrobat, an applicant must print the form and then either type it on a typewriter (and, seriously, who has one of those anymore?) or hand write it. And I don't know about any of you out there, but my handwriting just gets worse and worse as I become more dependent on typing.

At any rate, this story confirmed to me as an English teacher that I do need to have students publish online and become part of online communities. We need to have conversations about internet legacies and the rules of engagement online. Students need to create online profiles and learn to market themselves. There are definitely risks with this type of online activity, but it seems to me that we need to find creative ways to deal with these risks and to create classroom communities where students learn to support each other in these endeavors.