Originally Published: October 24, 2015 6 a.m.
I am amazed how many articles are coming out in favor of the PUSD bond and override. Is anyone setting aside the emotional pleas and looking at the cold hard reality of what's happening here? Taxpayers are about to retire a 10-year bond for which we paid substantially increased taxes, and now the PUSD school board and superintendent want taxpayers to pass another one with a budget override for increased salaries on top of the bond. The only positive argument offered is, it won't increase our taxes beyond what we are already paying for our schools. Why not ask them to justify the need for the bond and override especially since they haven't been transparent with taxpayers about the total amount of funding the school system actually received and how all the money was spent? Why has the superintendent not disclosed the funding PUSD received from gifts and trust funds, student activity fees, event ticket sales, government and foundation grants, and interest returned on school investment fund balances, just to name a few? These funding sources in other districts have amounted to $20 million! How much funding to the schools is not plainly visible to the public, how much has been spent and for what, and how much is left?
The presentations and handouts the superintendent and his Political Action Committee provided for the bond and override only list budget line items without justification. They say teachers are underpaid. Well, why are they underpaid? The answer is the school board and PUSD superintendent decide how the monies in the district are allocated, and for several years allocated money away from teachers and the classrooms at the alarming rate of 8 percent says the Arizona Auditor General. Instead of allocating money to the expenditure that most benefits our students (the teachers), they used it for other lower priority budget items. Had they allocated the money over the last five years to the highest priority, average teacher salaries would be $3,000 higher today. Ask yourself, do you think they are diverting monies away from teachers in order to justify their requests for overrides? It makes for a great emotional plea..."Our teachers are so underpaid; our best and most experienced teachers are leaving our schools to make higher wages elsewhere; we just have to pass this budget override." It seems to provide a convenient excuse for requesting more money from you, the taxpayer, by keeping teacher salaries low. And are you aware the requested override will not only increase teacher salaries by 5 percent, but salaries of all school staff by the same amount including the superintendent whose current salary is $118,000 not including added benefits, perks, and bonuses. It's interesting the superintendent's annual financial report required to be filed each year with the state has a blank field for the superintendent's salary. Why is that? Does he not want the public to know? Why is the taxpayer being asked to pay him an additional 5 percent on top of a very healthy salary when our citizens' wages and income have remained flat or declined since the recession? In addition, the superintendent should explain why the ratio of teachers to classified staff is 1:1. Is there any other business/industry with a similar ratio that could remain a viable business? Is it any wonder PUSD needs to request continual bonds and overrides?
The facts presented here are just the tip of the iceberg. A few previous letters to the editor have raised many legitimate questions, which I will not reiterate here except for two totally unsupportable bond line items: new buses, and a new roof on the high school. The budget estimate per bus is $173,786. How can this estimate possibly be accurate when commercial industry pays approximately $50,000 for a like vehicle? As for the roof on the high school we all know it's been leaking for years, yet not repaired adequately. Now they estimate $2.25 million for a new roof (where did this incredible estimate come from?), but are not spending the money until the 5th year of the bond? Why would they wait five years to replace the roof if it is in as dire condition as they want us believe? Why didn't the previous bond pay for this high priority item? Where was that money spent instead? Are the new buses and the new roof another of those convenient emotional pleas to support continued bond requests? I sincerely hope other voters are asking these same questions.
Please, before you vote on the bond and override, set aside the emotion that "it's for the kids", and ask yourself, have the PUSD school board and superintendent justified the $15 million bond and approximate $6 million override requests to your satisfaction? For me, I have to say no. Let's make the PUSD school board and superintendent be accountable for taxpayer money and demand they spend the money as carefully and prudently as they would their own.