Column: PUSD can't build trust without transparency
The PUSD school board and administration works hard to be transparent in their finances. It seeks the support of the community and realizes that trust cannot be gained without truth and transparency. This is why columns like yesterday's "School Bond/Override: Is Anyone Questioning This?" are particularly disappointing. Twisting facts and throwing fallacies in an article have no purpose but destruction of that trust and hurt Prescott's future.
In an effort to continue in the path of transparency adopted by PUSD here are some facts in response to the questions and false statements issued yesterday:
Transparency: The criticism of a lack of transparency is without basis. Transparency exists in every area questioned by the columnist. However, one must take some initiative and go and look at the budget either online at www.pusdonline.com or by making an appointment at the PUSD office. Further, there is an annual financial report (AFR) filed with the State with all of this information. Finally, for especially interested citizens, Budget 101 classes have been offered by PUSD since last spring and will continue to be offered which explains school finance and PUSD's budget.
Funding Requests Supported: The total amount of funding in all areas is reported in the AFR and supported with justification in the worksheets used to develop the budget. All of this information can be found on the State Education website, www.azed.gov.
Gifts, Donations and Fees Reported: Gifts, donations, student activity fees, and federal funds are listed on the budget and the AFR. The issue with gifts, grants, student activity fees, etc. is that they are all restricted. The monies are restricted per the contributors' requested use. Tax credits can only be used for extracurricular activities or character building programs, pursuant to state law.
Taking Money from Teachers: PUSD and the previous superintendent were forced by the State to cut and cut and cut at their budget. Remember two schools were closed last year? The lack of State funding results in cutting from the salary side of the budget. There are less teachers when 2 schools close.
Although it is great to see that research is being conducted from reports such as the Auditor General, the information used to justify an overreaching statement that PUSD has directed monies away from teachers at 8% per year is a misleading manipulation. Actually, per the Auditor's report, percentages being directed away from teachers and classrooms have decreased. The number one expense to a school district budget is personnel. Why? Because schools are a people business. As budgets shrink (and PUSD has been forced to shrink due to $17 million in promised money NOT received from the State over 6 years), the first budget item to be cut is necessary the largest-salaries. Therefore, teachers and other staff have been lost. This does not mean the electric bill, the capital needs, or the cost of fuel has decreased with our budget. Those stay the same, or in fact, can increase. So when you have less staff and other things remain constant, the percentages in the pie do shift.
One to One Ratio: Teachers cannot run a school by themselves. There are a number of other positions considered classified: Speech therapy, occupational therapy, nurses, counselors, administrative assistants, classroom and playground aides; bus drivers to name a few. Anyone who is not a certified teacher is a classified staff person. So, yes the ratio of certified to classified is one to one. That is what you will find in large schools districts that provide many services for their students.
The Superintendent Has No Bonuses: This is laughable and more than a manipulation of the truth. This is fallacy. What added perks and benefits do you feel the superintendent is getting paid? He does receive medical insurance and retirement, the same as all other full time employees. However, there are no additional perks that are provided to the superintendent than that of any other full time employee within the district. Not only is the superintendent's salary transparent, come and look at the District's open district financial books. It has been published in this paper numerous times. What other business operates with 600 full-time employees and nearly 100 part-time and substitute employees and has the CEO making $118,000? This IS a CEO that is taking part in these hard financial times.
School Buses for $50,000?!?: You can't even buy a brand new Suburban for $50,000, let alone a school bus. There is a 32-page document outlining the requirements for school buses in Arizona. See ADOT Regulation R13-13-101, et seq. Charter buses may have a life expectancy of 1,000,000 miles. Please remember those are all highway miles and not the stop and start miles every 8 blocks that school buses do. The National Assoc. of Pupil Transportation Services studied this issue and determined that school bus replacement should be based on miles and recommended replacement at 250,000 miles. (http://www.nasdpts.org/Documents/Paper-BusReplacement.pdf). To avoid manipulation, let's compare school buses to school buses.
Why Not Replace the High School Roof Now?: PUSD is working with the roofing manufacturer to re-warranty the roof of the high school for 5 additional years. Therefore, that warranty would handle repairs on the current roof and make it last another five years. Because the extended warranty expires at that point, then the roof would be replaced. A very logical, and taxpayer conscious decision if you ask me.
There you have it: Transparency. If there are more questions, I guarantee a phone call to PUSD will result in an answer. And remember, "We live in a world where unfortunately the distinction between true and false appears to become increasingly blurred by manipulation of facts..." Arne Tiselius Don't be manipulated, get the truth and support our local public schools. Please vote "Yes, Yes" and mail your ballot in this week so it is sure to be counted!
Krista Carman, Prescott, is a local attorney and business owner, co-chair of the Support Our Students campaign and mother of four PUSD students.