Originally Published: May 16, 2016 6 a.m.
It’s hard to believe that the school year is coming to an end. May is an incredible time in the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD). It is the time for the culmination of many great learning adventures, a time for concerts, championships, finals, talent shows, yearbook signings, prom and finally, promotions, graduation, endings and new beginnings.
As the flowers blossom and the trees fill out with green, our kids are wrapping up a chapter in their lives, and planning for the next. The potential in the air is so powerful; you can’t help but just smile.
This makes me reflect back on my first year as superintendent, and then further to my 13 years in PUSD, 20-plus as an educator in the area, and even the 30-plus years I have been lucky enough to call Prescott my home. As I look back at this year, I am so proud of our incredible students and our amazing staff. I cannot help but smile as I thank our community for supporting our schools, day in and day out. At PUSD, miracles happen every day.
The Prescott High School graduating class of 2016 has been another amazing group of kids that is ready to take on the world. On May 27, we will celebrate their milestone with our traditional PHS graduation: often chilly, sun setting over Thumb Butte with thousands of proud Prescottonians watching. This year, Governor Doug Ducey will be joining us onstage to shake the hand of each graduate, as well as to share a few words with these successful young adults.
The year began with an election to support our schools, and it is now ending with an election. Tomorrow evening, the results of proposition 123 will be clear. Most of us have voted, but I must remind our community of the facts, and the effect of 123 on our local public schools. If proposition 123 passes, $678,348 will be added to PUSD’s yearly budget. If Prop 123 fails, $0 will be added to PUSD’s yearly budget. Due to declining enrollment, PUSD must reduce its budget by $1.8 million for 2015-16. If prop 123 passes, the reduction will be reduced to $1.2 million. Whether 123 passes or fails, the PUSD voter-approved override will use 4.6 percent of the maintenance and operation budget to provide a raise for all PUSD staff. This should bring PUSD teachers from 22 percent below the average state teacher pay to 17 percent below the average state teacher pay. Whether 123 passes or fails, the PUSD voter approved $15 million bond will provide for our essential needs in building renewal, buses and technology. We cannot thank our voters enough for affording our local schools this great support and ability to stay in the race.
Each year, the legislative session in Arizona has us holding our breath. Unfortunately, in the 49th funded state in the nation for public education, we are usually holding our breath in fear. This year, much hangs on the outcome of proposition 123, but educators are feeling somewhat relieved that K-12 funding was held somewhat harmless in the legislative session. While status quo is nowhere near what is needed for number 49, our local legislators have been tireless heroes for education, as they fought to the end to support PUSD’s specific needs around current year funding and several other major issues that could have taken more money from our students. Representative Karen Fann truly led the state in favor of supporting our schools, with great assistance from Representative Noel Campbell and Senator Steve Pierce. Their constant communication with educators as they fought against further cuts was unprecedented and incredibly appreciated. In addition, as superintendent of our local schools, I was in the Governor’s office two times during the session, once in a meeting called by the governor himself to communicate directly with ten superintendents about the budget and the future of education. It was an honor to be able to share our real situations as the Governor asked for our thoughts. Positive reactions to our concerns were reiterated immediately in the media, and the feeling of being heard was strong.
Looking forward, I am excited about the future of our amazing town and specifically our great school district. We have done hard work and tough belt-tightening for several years due to the economy that has affected us all. Then we adjusted to a new charter school that took 600 of our students. Now, many are returning, the economy is strengthening and Prescott is third in the country for the best place to move to! We all knew it all along, right? As we rebound strongly, we look forward to continuing to provide the future, for not only our great community, but the great state of Arizona and our country beyond.
Joe Howard is superintendent of Prescott Unified School District.