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Wed, Feb. 19

Teacher salaries Prop 301's last priority; bill hides surprise LEAP

Prop 301 will give teachers "leftover" money from the bottom of a spending list that first diverts hundreds of millions of dollars to state and university coffers. Voters who intended to increase teacher salaries with Prop 301 may have also caused eventual dissolution of their school districts with 301s implementation of LEAP, Local Education Accountability Program.

LEAP permits individual school principals to withdraw their schools from districts and operate their schools independently, with their own curriculum, at district expense.

"I am not in favor of LEAP," said HUSD Superintendent Ron Maughan. "I think it's a way for principals to dodge accountability."

While Prop 301 supporters emphasized its purpose was to increase teacher salaries, an Arizona School Board Association analysis of Prop 301 and its parent bill, SB 1007, shows teacher salaries in fact fall almost dead last on a prioritized list that disseminates 301 money in specified order.

The order in which the state must spend collected 301 tax money is:

1. For payment of outstanding school improvement revenue bonds, up to a principal amount of $800,000,000.

2. Of the remaining money, 12 percent will be transferred to universities for their initiative funds.

3. Three percent of that remainder will go to community colleges' workforce development accounts.

4. Three percent then goes to tribal equivalents of community colleges for the same purpose.

5. Fixed annual amounts, beginning with $15,305,900 in 2001-2002 and topping out at $86,280,500 in 2005-2006, will pay for increased mandatory school days (one day per year for the next five years).

6. $7.8 million goes to the Department of Education for the Safe Schools Program.

7. An additional $200,000 to the DOE for "character education" matching grants.

8. $7 million more to DOE for "accountability purposes," which includes assistance to "failing schools" and to pay for a computer information data base on all students (Student Accountability Information System).

9. $1.5 million for the "failing schools" tutoring fund.

10. $25 million goes, not to education, but to the state general fund to pay for income tax credits for low income families (eligible families receive a $25 tax credit, eligible single people receive $12.50).

11. Whatever money is left after all these deductions finally goes to the Classroom Site Fund to be allocated in the following priority:

a. 40 percent for teacher "performance pay"

b. 20 percent for increasing teacher base compensation (salaries)

c. 40 percent for school operations and maintenance

Four HUSD teachers who met with the Tribune and asked not to be identified said they were unaware that teacher salaries fell at the bottom of the Prop 301 list.

"It's obvious we were given selected bits of information about 301," a teacher said. "The AEA (Arizona Education Association) didn't give us the total picture."

The teachers agreed that they felt they were used to advance the political agenda of others. None of them had ever heard of LEAP.

Voters who supported 301 also empowered the remainder of SB 1007, which in turn has empowered school principals to fracture school districts with the Local Education Accountability Program.

School principals may now withdraw their schools from the parent district and set up an independent school under LEAP, included in SB 1007.

According to professional schools lobbyist Sandy Junck, LEAP requires a school board to approve at least one principal's request for withdrawal. Boards must also approve withdrawal of up to 10 percent of a district's schools, should individual principals request withdrawal.

By that standard, Junck said, the HUSD school board would have to approve the withdrawal of the first HUSD principal making the request.

"The individual principal who requests withdrawal cannot be reprimanded by the board," Junck said. "And the bill is silent as far as any provision for a district re-admitting a withdrawn school."

Junck said the bill also does not indicate to whom the independent school principal answers, what happens to the independent school when a principal leaves, and who would hire a new principal for that school.

"There are some areas in the bill that need to be cleaned up," she said.

According to the ASBA SB 1007 analysis, any number of schools in a district can apply for withdrawal under LEAP, and the district must decide which schools will be allowed to withdraw, until 10 percent of the district's schools have withdrawn.

The independent school may then contract for goods and services from its parent district, and the school board "has no choice but to approve if the contract is in proper form and is for a lawful purpose," the analysis reads.

The school district must still "distribute all monies associated with teacher salaries, average daily membership and transportation of pupils directly to the principal of the independent school," the analysis continues. "In addition, the district is still responsible for the provision of special education services (at the independent school)."

The independent school may also adopt curriculum and materials not approved by the school board.

Junck said LEAP is not directly a part of Prop 301. Rather it is a component of 301s parent bill, Senate Bill 1007.

"LEAP was contingent upon passage of 301," she said. "Had 301 failed, LEAP would have failed with it."

The 207-page Ballot Propositions & Judicial Performance Review, mailed months ago by the state to all registered voters, contains no mention of LEAP. Junck said that is because the Secretary of State does not include parent legislative bills in the Review for voter information.

Asked if LEAP is intended to further take away local control of schools, Junck said, "I think that's what was looked at to a certain extent. But legislators (also) felt individual schools and principals would be able to look after needs of the individual community."

"I see it as more closely paralleling school vouchers and charter schools," Maughan said. "I'm concerned principals might join LEAP for the wrong reasons."

An official at Arizona Risk Retention Trust, which insures Arizona schools, said, "If I were a principal about to be fired, I could apply for LEAP and the school board couldn't touch me."

Junck said principals of independent schools would essentially have to be both principals and superintendents, with all the additional financial responsibilities.

"I don't think there's going to be that much (principal) interest in the program," she said.

A survey of all HUSD school principals showed none of them had heard of LEAP before the Nov. 7 vote.

Prop 301 failed in Yavapai County, but passed statewide.

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