Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 9, 2007


Host: Matthew Whitaker

saturn Images


  • see some new images of Saturn, courtesy of the University of Arizona.
Guests:
  • Professor Jay Blanchard - ASU College of Education, member of the School District Redistricting Commission and former State Senator
  • Dr. Wilma Basnett - Superintendent, Osborn Elementary School District
Category: Science

View Transcript

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Tonight on "Horizon", find out what's being done to reduce the number of School Districts in Arizona. And why some districts aren't too happy about it. Plus, a new view of the planet Saturn, courtesy of the University of Arizona. That's coming up on "Horizon".

>>Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible through the contributions of the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Good evening, I'm Matthew Whitaker, welcome to "Horizon". There are 227 school districts in Arizona, and about 50 of them have fewer than 200 students. But that might not be the case for long. A State commission is working on plans to combine districts. It's an effort to cut costs and improve education, but as David Majure reports, not all districts subscribe to the theory.

>>David Majure:
Kyrene de la Mariposa is one of 25 schools in the East Valley's Kyrene Elementary School District. Dr. David Schauer is the District Superintendent.

>>David Schauer:
You know, we are a highly successful School District, and we have 22 excelling schools. We have some of the highest percentage of dollars going into the classroom, some of the lowest percentage of dollars going to administrative overhead. And that's something we've worked very hard to achieve. And any scenario that we look at compromises that.

>>David Majure:
The scenarios Dr. Schauer is talking about are plans to merge his district with up to two others. One plan combines Kyrene with both the Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High School Districts, creating one large, unified district.

>>David Schauer:
And then the other one is to divide the High School District into two, and have half go with Tempe Elementary and half go with Kyrene. So, that would be a 3 into 2 district plans.

>>David Majure:
The unification plans are the work of the School District Redistricting Commission. It was established by state law in 2005 to decide if and how to combine about half of Arizona's 227 School Districts. The commission recently sent its unification proposals to districts throughout the state.

>>Rae Waters:
They're asking us to look at them, analyze them and bring our response back to the commission by July 30.

>>David Majure:
Rae Waters is a member of Kyrene Elementary's Governing Board. She and Superintendent Schauer are skeptical that merging their district with others will produce significant academic or financial benefits.

>>Rae Waters:
I think what you find in our districts, in Kyrene, Tempe Elementary, and Tempe Union is that we're already at a size that your economy of scale has kicked in. There's some districts that might help. But in our situation, you put all 3 together and you've got 47,000 students, 44 to 47,000, depending on the numbers. And once you start doing that, you have to do a system like Mesa, where you might only have one superintendent, but you have more layers of administration. So you have many Assistant Superintendents, and many more Directors. And it just eats up any savings you would get in what you would have for a superintendent salary.

>>David Schauer:
I wrote an article recently for the Ahwautukee Foothills News, and it was called "What Are We Trying To Fix?" And so, while we're trying to be open-minded, we really aren't seeing the advantages of either plan. And, when you look at the financial information, basically you have three School Districts that don't have an excess of money. You know, we're all struggling every year just to be able to provide compensation increases and to cover operating costs. And when we examine what we would have to do if we combined, it would require additional funds, which aren't going to be coming from the Legislature. So, you know, it's difficult to see that it could be a really good thing.

>>David Majure:
One thing, according to Waters, is fairly easy to understand.

>>Rae Waters:
Yea, we know we need money to do this.

>>David Majure:
She says the preliminary analysis indicates merging Kyrene with the two other districts could cost as much as $8 million.

>>Rae Waters:
To align the salary schedules. You cannot cut teacher salaries in the state of Arizona. And you wouldn't want to. But we have our High School District is higher than the Elementary district so we have to bring those Elementary teachers up to that. And that would come to about $8 million.

>>David Majure:
As far as educational benefits that may be derived from a fully integrated K-12 curriculum, Schauer says they're already there.

>>David Schauer:
Kyrene families are Tempe Union High School District families. So, we work very hard to have partnerships with them already. So in a way, we are unified. You know, we aren't formally the same district, but we talk about our curriculum, we talk about the resources we use, we talk about how we teach the kids. And teachers continually meet with each other to see to it that kids do have that K-12 experience.

>>David Majure:
Bottom line, says Schauer, don't fix what's not broken.

>>David Schauer:
Well, it might make sense in some places. You know, like, if you have a really small district with 100 kids, and there's a neighboring district with maybe 3 or 400, you know, there could be some real benefits there. But I think the real issue in Arizona is about funding schools.

>>David Majure:
Meanwhile, Kyrene will keep educating kids, but they're also going to step up efforts to educate their parents. Because after Kyrene responds to the unification plans, the Redistricting Commission will forward its final recommendations to the Governor. And in November of 2008, parents in the affected districts will decide whether or not to unify.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Joining me to talk about school district unification are Professor Jay Blanchard from ASU's College of Education. Dr. Blanchard is a member of the School District Redistricting Commission, and he's a former State Senator as well. Dr. Wilma Basnett is Superintendent of the Osborn Elementary School District. It is one of the districts facing unification. And from a district that doesn't have to be concerned because it's already unified. Dr. John Baracy, Superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District. Dr. Baracy also has experience as an administrator in non-unified elementary and high school districts. I want to thank you for joining us this evening on "Horizon". A Very important topic. We begin with you, Jay, first. Can you tell us about the commission, its mandate and how it's gone about its business so far?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, the job of the commission is really fact-finding. By December of this year, the commission will decide whether to send the plan or not send the plan to the voters on our school districts where we have high school districts and elementary school districts combined. It doesn't affect, as you mentioned, unified school districts at all. So the commission will be looking at plans, talking about plans, those proposals, and trying to make some decisions on whether to forward a plan or perhaps no plan at all for the school district.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and can you tell us, is there an optimal size for school district?

>>Jay Blanchard:
I don't think so. Common sense would dictate if we combined all the elementary school districts and Phoenix High School Districts that about 110,000 students would be too big.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and how many and what kinds of districts are facing unification?

>>Jay Blanchard:
All of the elementary districts in the State plus the high school districts. That's approximately half of the children in the State of Arizona.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, Dr. Basnett, you've taken the position in your district that school unification will harm student achievement. Can you talk to us about that?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Yes. We've actually done -- taken a look at the research, and what the research has to say about the size of district and achievement. And what we found was that for students in poverty, that the achievement declines the larger the district. And so we're very concerned that we maintain a reasonable size so that our students will achieve. That's our main focus, is student achievement.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and what's the -- can you speak to the correlation, the larger the district, the more adversely the students of poverty are? What's the connection?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Well, it's achievement. I think what the research has to say is that children in low socioeconomic need small in order to build relationships, which is critical, that the smaller the school, certainly is best. And what they have found is that small schools in small districts, those students achieve at a higher level.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, a question for you. Theory that fully integrated K-12 curriculum is better for kids? Is that the common theory?

>>Jay Blanchard:
I think that would be the common perception. Because that leads to a view that you are accountable ,and the school board is accountable, the voters are accountable from children from preschool through 18, 19-years of age. It doesn't have to be that way, but most school districts around the United States are of an unified nature.

>> Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Dr. Baracy, you've worked in both unified and non-unified school districts. Can you tell us, are there significant financial benefits to be had? Curricular? Can you tell us about your experience, and how you view this?

>>John Baracy:
Sure. I have worked both in a high school district -- the largest high school district in the state, Phoenix Union, and two elementary school districts that are quite large, Tempe Elementary and Roosevelt elementary. Now I'm the superintendent of a unified school district, Scottsdale Unified School District, which has approximately 26,000 students. Which is really the right size for a school district, I believe. I think that there are quite a few questions we need to ask ourselves if this is good for a school district or school districts. I first believe that there are too many school districts in our state. I think we have too many. And yet what is disingenuous is our policymakers, who will argue that we should consolidate and unify school districts, and yet, over the past decade, we have created 500 charter schools. So we've gone from roughly 230 currently school districts, we've added another 500, in essence, school districts in charter schools. So I think we have to talk about that in this debate, too. Now, say that, the studies that I have seen is there is economy of scale if it's strictly a financial issue.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
That was my next question.

>>John Baracy:
Yea, I believe that there is. And there are studies that do indicate that. In fact, some that have been done in dissertations that are filed in the ASU Library here from former faculty members that will attest to that. But I believe, though, it's more than just a financial savings. I think the community has to ask itself, really, what is good for our children? And that's the thing that I think we have to focus on. If it is good for our children, then let the debate get going. If it's just financial issues, then I think that that is another debate. So I think that we have to talk about will it improve instruction and will it improve learning for our children? If the answer is yes, then I think that discussions really have to be deeper.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Let me return to my initial question just to tease it out a little bit. The commission itself, are there particular criteria or framework by which it's doing its investigation, its going about its business? Can you speak a little bit more about that?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Sure. The School District Redistricting Commission is driven by Senate bill 1068, which set up the Commission. The Commission has certain criteria to consider when making its ultimate decision. But it is a fact-finding mission in that the superintendents around the State, the school boards and citizens around the state, are to try to let the commission know what their concerns are. The plans that the commission has sent forward are just proposals at this point. And the commission welcomes any change, any comments, anything that might happen. Now, in December of this year, the commission will take a look at all the comments, and make a decision on whether or not a plan would go forward. And if there is a plan, the voters in November of 2008 will make a decision yes or no on whether they like the plan. Now, historically this has not been successful in Arizona. Kingman is the only recent school district where an elementary district has merged with an union high school district. So, it's an uphill battle. There's no question about it.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and Dr. Basnett, can you tell us, is this -- are we going about it the right way, the wrong way, somewhere in between? Can you comment on that?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Well, I have some strong feelings about the -- as it affects the Osborne School District, obviously. My concern is the -- a bit in the process, although I was pleased to hear Dr. Blanchard indicate that it's not set in stone as of yet. Because our input will count. Our district did a report with a lot of research that we felt was important that addresses the kind of children that we deal with. So I'm encouraged that that will be considered, and perhaps some of the recommendations will be changed.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and did you want to chime in or respond to that at all? Do you think that process the way this is evolving now is moving in the right direction?

>>John Baracy:
I believe from looking at the process as an outsider. I think the process has been very healthy and ultimately, it will be presented to the voters who will have the final say in this. And I think that that's fair.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. OK --

>>Jay Blanchard:
Any plan that the commission might put forward has to be OKed by the voters. The commission only has the power to recommend to the voters a plan. The voters can decide we don't want to do this for whatever reason. Or they can decide they like the idea of a plan, and there are a number of school boards around the state that are moving in the direction of perhaps doing it before there is an election in November of 2008.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, districts have different taxes, property values, wealth, etc., etc. Will this be a problem if these districts are combined?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, we've got a former business manager right here.

>>John Baracy:
Well, it depends on how the districts are structured, but I will say this as I understand it. First of all, all school districts in the State have the same qualifying tax rate. That's not different. And all school districts have the same amount of funding per pupil. Now, there is -- there will be some discussions that I'm sure will have to be decided on in existing debt. How will that be handled. Now, my familiarity with the school districts that have consolidated in other states, what usually takes place is that when a school district consolidates, the two schools, for instance, if it's two schools, the school districts from school district A, they keep paying that debt. They're responsible for the debt that they voted in when they were school district A. School district B is responsible for its debt that it voted when it was school district B. Now, A and B combined into C, any new debt that they incur, then both are responsible for that debt. And that seems to me to be reasonable, too, that in that type of consolidation or unification, each school district is responsible for its own debt that it voted in on its own. And no, A and B do not incur either of their prior debt, only new debt.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, you stressed if there is a plan, right? If there is a plan. Who will decide, you know, if it goes to ballot?

>>Jay Blanchard:
The voters in the affected school districts. The voters in the elementary and secondary school district. In case of half of our school districts in Arizona, a voter would sit inside a high school district which is also inside an elementary school district. They wouldn't have two votes, they would just simply have one vote.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Jay Blanchard:
With 15 Arizona counties, in six counties, the commission has recommended at least so far their proposals are to make no changes at all to those school districts. But again, the commission welcomes any proposals from any affected group.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Dr. Basnett, you've done some research in your district on economies of scale. Can you speak more to that on what you found?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Yes. We found that there is economy of scale for very small districts. And the research isn't real clear on what constitutes a small district. But for the most part, it's anywhere from 500 to 750 students, possibly up to 1,000. That there definitely is economy of scale at that point. But a medium-sized district, you know, are already reaching the economy of scale. And there is actually a point where there's a "diseconomy of scale", that you don't save any money that is saved does not go toward the classroom.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, OK. Now, it's my understanding that a great many citizens are sort of unaware of sort of the what's going on, the ins and outs of what's going on. They can relate to the financial aspect of it. But the questions about what else is involved, why are we considering this, I mean, how would you answer those questions? And anybody can chime in on that particular point. How would you -- in a succinct sort of way, how would you sum up the importance of this issue and what it actually means??

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, it's absolutely critical to Arizona public schools, those districts that are elementary and secondary school districts. We're operating under an agrarian model. It's at least 135 years old, and I think it's time to consider redistricting, which in other states, goes back to consolidation and unification. I think in the mind of the legislature and in the mind of the Governor, that the role of the commission is to take a look at redistricting unification for these districts.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Wilma Basnett:
May I add something?

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Oh, certainly.

>>Wilma Basnett:
We have found that a lot of the districts that have consolidated are having second looks at that, that big isn't necessarily better. And so there's a lot of research that you can read that there is a real concern about that, that they have not had the economy of scale that they were anticipating. So it's something certainly that Commission, I believe, needs to consider.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, is bigger better?

>>Wilma Basnett:
not necessarily, no.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Wilma Basnett:
And certainly not for the kinds of children that we're dealing, low socioeconomic children. That's very clear in the research.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, alright.

>>John Baracy:
I think you're missing the point. Not bigger is better. It's unified is better. Where you can articulate programs from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I've not seen in any elementary district or high school district -- and I've been in both and I've been in a unified school district. I believe from what I've seen, many districts, that there is better articulation of curriculum, there is more ownership in students when it's K-12 school district. I see that. And -- I don't have a dog in the fight. However, I would be disingenuous if I didn't share with you that I think that there are too many school districts in our State. And I don't believe that the responsibility for a child is as great in an elementary school district and a high school district as it is in an unified school district. I just haven't seen that. There are many good things going on, but I think we have to ask ourselves, can there be better things going on if we look at this unification. And again, at the end of the day, it's going to be a political issue. And our State has talked about unification, consolidation, for decades. My understanding is that in the late 70's the Legislature actually did pass something to unify. And they turned it over because it was not well-received. I would be surprised if many initiatives in regards to unification and consolidation actually pass in November of 2008. But we'll see. A Presidential election. A lot of voter turnout. We'll see what happens.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, well, on that note, thank you, Dr. Baracy, Dr. Basnett, and Jay. Thank you very much.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
A University of Arizona-designed instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft is giving the world a new view of Saturn. Producer Pam White has more.

>>Pam White:
A remarkable figure was recently seen on Saturn, a hexagonal shape circling the entire North Pole.

>>Pam White:
What did you think when you first saw this?

>>Robert Brown:
Uhh, bizarre.

>> NASA's Voyager had seen faint images of it more than decades ago. This time it was a U of A instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft that captured the sight.

>>Robert Brown:
Nobody ever looked at Saturn has looked at it in quite this way before. The result is that the hexagon shows spectacularly well in this wavelength.

>>Pam White:
it's a highly-sophisticated camera called the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, or VIMS. Dr. Robert Brown is a principal investigator for VIMS.

>>Robert Brown:
Its prime function is to look at objects in regions of the light spectrum that the eye can't see. Because it takes -- in order to understand things scientifically, one must look at things in ways that the eye typically can't see.

>>Pam White:
VIMS is basically a color camera that takes pictures at more than 300 different wave lengths. And because it sees Saturn in a whole new light, it's making scientific discoveries that couldn't be made with the naked eye.

>>Robert Brown:
now that we're looking at Saturn with the infrared eyes of VIMS, we can see into the planet. And we see past this kind of high altitude hazes on Saturn, which obscures a lot of the activity.

>>Pam White:
For instance, these images of Saturn are taken by Cassini's regular camera, and here are images of some of the same areas taken by VIMS.

>>Robert Brown:
it's like taking something like Saturn and putting a light bulb in the inside and turning it on and seeing things from the inside out. So, it enabled us to look at Saturn in a way we haven't been able to do before. We discovered all kinds of interesting things about the meteorology on Saturn, the cloud structure. The hexagon is a prime example of that.

>>Pam White:
Initially, the hexagon took scientists by surprise. But now it seems to be a formation that's not that unusual.

>>Robert Brown:
The people who eventually explained this actually reproduced this behavior in effectively a bucket of water that they spun. If you create the right conditions, the right speeds, and if you spin the water, and also if you give a slight amount of up and down motion, then you can form these what we call polygonal patterns. You can form triangles, you can form squares, you can form pentagons, and they've gotten it up to hexagons.

>>Pam White:
VIMS is also helping to unravel the mysteries surrounding Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

>>Robert Brown:
And Methane performs the same function in Titan's atmosphere as water does in the Earth's atmosphere.

>>Pam White:
Radar had discovered hundreds of lakes in the northern region of Titan. Scientists think they are filled with liquid methane. But only VIMS will be able to confirm whether that's true or not.

>>Robert Brown:
The most obvious thing you would guess at it that material in these lakes would be liquid Methane. But that's as far as it's gone. The only way we're going to be certain is to use our instrument and determine what the chemical composition is. And we're working on that now. We're getting close. And while I'm not willing to say exactly what's there, I think we will -- we either know now based on the evidence we have or we will know pretty soon.

>>Pam White:
So Dr. Brown says if it weren't for VIMS, many discoveries about the geologic histories and processes in the Saturnian system would never have been made.

>>Robert Brown:
It has exceeded our expectations. Both because it's been such a reliable instrument. But also because it's turned out to produce so much in the way of interesting science. And science that actually, in many ways, we didn't anticipate that we would make the kinds of discoveries that we did before we got to Saturn. Some of them, we did, but many of them, we didn't.

>>Announcer:
it's Graduation Day at the Arizona Department of Public Safety Headquarters. 22 law enforcement officers from the DPS, the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Maricopa Sheriff's Office took part in a ceremony marking the end of their training that will allow them to perform immigration enforcement duties. Learn more from the DPS director Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon".

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Thank you for joining us on this Wednesday evening. I'm Matthew Whitaker. Good night.

>>Announcer:
if you have comments about "Horizon," please write to the addresses on your screen. Your name comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon."

>>Announcer:
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school District Redistricting


Guests:
  • Professor Jay Blanchard - ASU College of Education, member of the School District Redistricting Commission and former State Senator
  • Dr. Wilma Basnett - Superintendent, Osborn Elementary School District
Category: Education

View Transcript

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Tonight on "Horizon", find out what's being done to reduce the number of School Districts in Arizona. And why some districts aren't too happy about it. Plus, a new view of the planet Saturn, courtesy of the University of Arizona. That's coming up on "Horizon".

>>Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible through the contributions of the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Good evening, I'm Matthew Whitaker, welcome to "Horizon". There are 227 school districts in Arizona, and about 50 of them have fewer than 200 students. But that might not be the case for long. A State commission is working on plans to combine districts. It's an effort to cut costs and improve education, but as David Majure reports, not all districts subscribe to the theory.

>>David Majure:
Kyrene de la Mariposa is one of 25 schools in the East Valley's Kyrene Elementary School District. Dr. David Schauer is the District Superintendent.

>>David Schauer:
You know, we are a highly successful School District, and we have 22 excelling schools. We have some of the highest percentage of dollars going into the classroom, some of the lowest percentage of dollars going to administrative overhead. And that's something we've worked very hard to achieve. And any scenario that we look at compromises that.

>>David Majure:
The scenarios Dr. Schauer is talking about are plans to merge his district with up to two others. One plan combines Kyrene with both the Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High School Districts, creating one large, unified district.

>>David Schauer:
And then the other one is to divide the High School District into two, and have half go with Tempe Elementary and half go with Kyrene. So, that would be a 3 into 2 district plans.

>>David Majure:
The unification plans are the work of the School District Redistricting Commission. It was established by state law in 2005 to decide if and how to combine about half of Arizona's 227 School Districts. The commission recently sent its unification proposals to districts throughout the state.

>>Rae Waters:
They're asking us to look at them, analyze them and bring our response back to the commission by July 30.

>>David Majure:
Rae Waters is a member of Kyrene Elementary's Governing Board. She and Superintendent Schauer are skeptical that merging their district with others will produce significant academic or financial benefits.

>>Rae Waters:
I think what you find in our districts, in Kyrene, Tempe Elementary, and Tempe Union is that we're already at a size that your economy of scale has kicked in. There's some districts that might help. But in our situation, you put all 3 together and you've got 47,000 students, 44 to 47,000, depending on the numbers. And once you start doing that, you have to do a system like Mesa, where you might only have one superintendent, but you have more layers of administration. So you have many Assistant Superintendents, and many more Directors. And it just eats up any savings you would get in what you would have for a superintendent salary.

>>David Schauer:
I wrote an article recently for the Ahwautukee Foothills News, and it was called "What Are We Trying To Fix?" And so, while we're trying to be open-minded, we really aren't seeing the advantages of either plan. And, when you look at the financial information, basically you have three School Districts that don't have an excess of money. You know, we're all struggling every year just to be able to provide compensation increases and to cover operating costs. And when we examine what we would have to do if we combined, it would require additional funds, which aren't going to be coming from the Legislature. So, you know, it's difficult to see that it could be a really good thing.

>>David Majure:
One thing, according to Waters, is fairly easy to understand.

>>Rae Waters:
Yea, we know we need money to do this.

>>David Majure:
She says the preliminary analysis indicates merging Kyrene with the two other districts could cost as much as $8 million.

>>Rae Waters:
To align the salary schedules. You cannot cut teacher salaries in the state of Arizona. And you wouldn't want to. But we have our High School District is higher than the Elementary district so we have to bring those Elementary teachers up to that. And that would come to about $8 million.

>>David Majure:
As far as educational benefits that may be derived from a fully integrated K-12 curriculum, Schauer says they're already there.

>>David Schauer:
Kyrene families are Tempe Union High School District families. So, we work very hard to have partnerships with them already. So in a way, we are unified. You know, we aren't formally the same district, but we talk about our curriculum, we talk about the resources we use, we talk about how we teach the kids. And teachers continually meet with each other to see to it that kids do have that K-12 experience.

>>David Majure:
Bottom line, says Schauer, don't fix what's not broken.

>>David Schauer:
Well, it might make sense in some places. You know, like, if you have a really small district with 100 kids, and there's a neighboring district with maybe 3 or 400, you know, there could be some real benefits there. But I think the real issue in Arizona is about funding schools.

>>David Majure:
Meanwhile, Kyrene will keep educating kids, but they're also going to step up efforts to educate their parents. Because after Kyrene responds to the unification plans, the Redistricting Commission will forward its final recommendations to the Governor. And in November of 2008, parents in the affected districts will decide whether or not to unify.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Joining me to talk about school district unification are Professor Jay Blanchard from ASU's College of Education. Dr. Blanchard is a member of the School District Redistricting Commission, and he's a former State Senator as well. Dr. Wilma Basnett is Superintendent of the Osborn Elementary School District. It is one of the districts facing unification. And from a district that doesn't have to be concerned because it's already unified. Dr. John Baracy, Superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District. Dr. Baracy also has experience as an administrator in non-unified elementary and high school districts. I want to thank you for joining us this evening on "Horizon". A Very important topic. We begin with you, Jay, first. Can you tell us about the commission, its mandate and how it's gone about its business so far?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, the job of the commission is really fact-finding. By December of this year, the commission will decide whether to send the plan or not send the plan to the voters on our school districts where we have high school districts and elementary school districts combined. It doesn't affect, as you mentioned, unified school districts at all. So the commission will be looking at plans, talking about plans, those proposals, and trying to make some decisions on whether to forward a plan or perhaps no plan at all for the school district.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and can you tell us, is there an optimal size for school district?

>>Jay Blanchard:
I don't think so. Common sense would dictate if we combined all the elementary school districts and Phoenix High School Districts that about 110,000 students would be too big.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and how many and what kinds of districts are facing unification?

>>Jay Blanchard:
All of the elementary districts in the State plus the high school districts. That's approximately half of the children in the State of Arizona.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, Dr. Basnett, you've taken the position in your district that school unification will harm student achievement. Can you talk to us about that?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Yes. We've actually done -- taken a look at the research, and what the research has to say about the size of district and achievement. And what we found was that for students in poverty, that the achievement declines the larger the district. And so we're very concerned that we maintain a reasonable size so that our students will achieve. That's our main focus, is student achievement.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and what's the -- can you speak to the correlation, the larger the district, the more adversely the students of poverty are? What's the connection?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Well, it's achievement. I think what the research has to say is that children in low socioeconomic need small in order to build relationships, which is critical, that the smaller the school, certainly is best. And what they have found is that small schools in small districts, those students achieve at a higher level.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, a question for you. Theory that fully integrated K-12 curriculum is better for kids? Is that the common theory?

>>Jay Blanchard:
I think that would be the common perception. Because that leads to a view that you are accountable ,and the school board is accountable, the voters are accountable from children from preschool through 18, 19-years of age. It doesn't have to be that way, but most school districts around the United States are of an unified nature.

>> Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Dr. Baracy, you've worked in both unified and non-unified school districts. Can you tell us, are there significant financial benefits to be had? Curricular? Can you tell us about your experience, and how you view this?

>>John Baracy:
Sure. I have worked both in a high school district -- the largest high school district in the state, Phoenix Union, and two elementary school districts that are quite large, Tempe Elementary and Roosevelt elementary. Now I'm the superintendent of a unified school district, Scottsdale Unified School District, which has approximately 26,000 students. Which is really the right size for a school district, I believe. I think that there are quite a few questions we need to ask ourselves if this is good for a school district or school districts. I first believe that there are too many school districts in our state. I think we have too many. And yet what is disingenuous is our policymakers, who will argue that we should consolidate and unify school districts, and yet, over the past decade, we have created 500 charter schools. So we've gone from roughly 230 currently school districts, we've added another 500, in essence, school districts in charter schools. So I think we have to talk about that in this debate, too. Now, say that, the studies that I have seen is there is economy of scale if it's strictly a financial issue.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
That was my next question.

>>John Baracy:
Yea, I believe that there is. And there are studies that do indicate that. In fact, some that have been done in dissertations that are filed in the ASU Library here from former faculty members that will attest to that. But I believe, though, it's more than just a financial savings. I think the community has to ask itself, really, what is good for our children? And that's the thing that I think we have to focus on. If it is good for our children, then let the debate get going. If it's just financial issues, then I think that that is another debate. So I think that we have to talk about will it improve instruction and will it improve learning for our children? If the answer is yes, then I think that discussions really have to be deeper.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Let me return to my initial question just to tease it out a little bit. The commission itself, are there particular criteria or framework by which it's doing its investigation, its going about its business? Can you speak a little bit more about that?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Sure. The School District Redistricting Commission is driven by Senate bill 1068, which set up the Commission. The Commission has certain criteria to consider when making its ultimate decision. But it is a fact-finding mission in that the superintendents around the State, the school boards and citizens around the state, are to try to let the commission know what their concerns are. The plans that the commission has sent forward are just proposals at this point. And the commission welcomes any change, any comments, anything that might happen. Now, in December of this year, the commission will take a look at all the comments, and make a decision on whether or not a plan would go forward. And if there is a plan, the voters in November of 2008 will make a decision yes or no on whether they like the plan. Now, historically this has not been successful in Arizona. Kingman is the only recent school district where an elementary district has merged with an union high school district. So, it's an uphill battle. There's no question about it.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and Dr. Basnett, can you tell us, is this -- are we going about it the right way, the wrong way, somewhere in between? Can you comment on that?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Well, I have some strong feelings about the -- as it affects the Osborne School District, obviously. My concern is the -- a bit in the process, although I was pleased to hear Dr. Blanchard indicate that it's not set in stone as of yet. Because our input will count. Our district did a report with a lot of research that we felt was important that addresses the kind of children that we deal with. So I'm encouraged that that will be considered, and perhaps some of the recommendations will be changed.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, and did you want to chime in or respond to that at all? Do you think that process the way this is evolving now is moving in the right direction?

>>John Baracy:
I believe from looking at the process as an outsider. I think the process has been very healthy and ultimately, it will be presented to the voters who will have the final say in this. And I think that that's fair.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. OK --

>>Jay Blanchard:
Any plan that the commission might put forward has to be OKed by the voters. The commission only has the power to recommend to the voters a plan. The voters can decide we don't want to do this for whatever reason. Or they can decide they like the idea of a plan, and there are a number of school boards around the state that are moving in the direction of perhaps doing it before there is an election in November of 2008.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, districts have different taxes, property values, wealth, etc., etc. Will this be a problem if these districts are combined?

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, we've got a former business manager right here.

>>John Baracy:
Well, it depends on how the districts are structured, but I will say this as I understand it. First of all, all school districts in the State have the same qualifying tax rate. That's not different. And all school districts have the same amount of funding per pupil. Now, there is -- there will be some discussions that I'm sure will have to be decided on in existing debt. How will that be handled. Now, my familiarity with the school districts that have consolidated in other states, what usually takes place is that when a school district consolidates, the two schools, for instance, if it's two schools, the school districts from school district A, they keep paying that debt. They're responsible for the debt that they voted in when they were school district A. School district B is responsible for its debt that it voted when it was school district B. Now, A and B combined into C, any new debt that they incur, then both are responsible for that debt. And that seems to me to be reasonable, too, that in that type of consolidation or unification, each school district is responsible for its own debt that it voted in on its own. And no, A and B do not incur either of their prior debt, only new debt.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Now, you stressed if there is a plan, right? If there is a plan. Who will decide, you know, if it goes to ballot?

>>Jay Blanchard:
The voters in the affected school districts. The voters in the elementary and secondary school district. In case of half of our school districts in Arizona, a voter would sit inside a high school district which is also inside an elementary school district. They wouldn't have two votes, they would just simply have one vote.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Jay Blanchard:
With 15 Arizona counties, in six counties, the commission has recommended at least so far their proposals are to make no changes at all to those school districts. But again, the commission welcomes any proposals from any affected group.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK. Dr. Basnett, you've done some research in your district on economies of scale. Can you speak more to that on what you found?

>>Wilma Basnett:
Yes. We found that there is economy of scale for very small districts. And the research isn't real clear on what constitutes a small district. But for the most part, it's anywhere from 500 to 750 students, possibly up to 1,000. That there definitely is economy of scale at that point. But a medium-sized district, you know, are already reaching the economy of scale. And there is actually a point where there's a "diseconomy of scale", that you don't save any money that is saved does not go toward the classroom.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, OK. Now, it's my understanding that a great many citizens are sort of unaware of sort of the what's going on, the ins and outs of what's going on. They can relate to the financial aspect of it. But the questions about what else is involved, why are we considering this, I mean, how would you answer those questions? And anybody can chime in on that particular point. How would you -- in a succinct sort of way, how would you sum up the importance of this issue and what it actually means??

>>Jay Blanchard:
Well, it's absolutely critical to Arizona public schools, those districts that are elementary and secondary school districts. We're operating under an agrarian model. It's at least 135 years old, and I think it's time to consider redistricting, which in other states, goes back to consolidation and unification. I think in the mind of the legislature and in the mind of the Governor, that the role of the commission is to take a look at redistricting unification for these districts.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Wilma Basnett:
May I add something?

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Oh, certainly.

>>Wilma Basnett:
We have found that a lot of the districts that have consolidated are having second looks at that, that big isn't necessarily better. And so there's a lot of research that you can read that there is a real concern about that, that they have not had the economy of scale that they were anticipating. So it's something certainly that Commission, I believe, needs to consider.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, is bigger better?

>>Wilma Basnett:
not necessarily, no.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK.

>>Wilma Basnett:
And certainly not for the kinds of children that we're dealing, low socioeconomic children. That's very clear in the research.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, alright.

>>John Baracy:
I think you're missing the point. Not bigger is better. It's unified is better. Where you can articulate programs from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I've not seen in any elementary district or high school district -- and I've been in both and I've been in a unified school district. I believe from what I've seen, many districts, that there is better articulation of curriculum, there is more ownership in students when it's K-12 school district. I see that. And -- I don't have a dog in the fight. However, I would be disingenuous if I didn't share with you that I think that there are too many school districts in our State. And I don't believe that the responsibility for a child is as great in an elementary school district and a high school district as it is in an unified school district. I just haven't seen that. There are many good things going on, but I think we have to ask ourselves, can there be better things going on if we look at this unification. And again, at the end of the day, it's going to be a political issue. And our State has talked about unification, consolidation, for decades. My understanding is that in the late 70's the Legislature actually did pass something to unify. And they turned it over because it was not well-received. I would be surprised if many initiatives in regards to unification and consolidation actually pass in November of 2008. But we'll see. A Presidential election. A lot of voter turnout. We'll see what happens.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
OK, well, on that note, thank you, Dr. Baracy, Dr. Basnett, and Jay. Thank you very much.

>>Matthew Whitaker:
A University of Arizona-designed instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft is giving the world a new view of Saturn. Producer Pam White has more.

>>Pam White:
A remarkable figure was recently seen on Saturn, a hexagonal shape circling the entire North Pole.

>>Pam White:
What did you think when you first saw this?

>>Robert Brown:
Uhh, bizarre.

>> NASA's Voyager had seen faint images of it more than decades ago. This time it was a U of A instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft that captured the sight.

>>Robert Brown:
Nobody ever looked at Saturn has looked at it in quite this way before. The result is that the hexagon shows spectacularly well in this wavelength.

>>Pam White:
it's a highly-sophisticated camera called the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer, or VIMS. Dr. Robert Brown is a principal investigator for VIMS.

>>Robert Brown:
Its prime function is to look at objects in regions of the light spectrum that the eye can't see. Because it takes -- in order to understand things scientifically, one must look at things in ways that the eye typically can't see.

>>Pam White:
VIMS is basically a color camera that takes pictures at more than 300 different wave lengths. And because it sees Saturn in a whole new light, it's making scientific discoveries that couldn't be made with the naked eye.

>>Robert Brown:
now that we're looking at Saturn with the infrared eyes of VIMS, we can see into the planet. And we see past this kind of high altitude hazes on Saturn, which obscures a lot of the activity.

>>Pam White:
For instance, these images of Saturn are taken by Cassini's regular camera, and here are images of some of the same areas taken by VIMS.

>>Robert Brown:
it's like taking something like Saturn and putting a light bulb in the inside and turning it on and seeing things from the inside out. So, it enabled us to look at Saturn in a way we haven't been able to do before. We discovered all kinds of interesting things about the meteorology on Saturn, the cloud structure. The hexagon is a prime example of that.

>>Pam White:
Initially, the hexagon took scientists by surprise. But now it seems to be a formation that's not that unusual.

>>Robert Brown:
The people who eventually explained this actually reproduced this behavior in effectively a bucket of water that they spun. If you create the right conditions, the right speeds, and if you spin the water, and also if you give a slight amount of up and down motion, then you can form these what we call polygonal patterns. You can form triangles, you can form squares, you can form pentagons, and they've gotten it up to hexagons.

>>Pam White:
VIMS is also helping to unravel the mysteries surrounding Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

>>Robert Brown:
And Methane performs the same function in Titan's atmosphere as water does in the Earth's atmosphere.

>>Pam White:
Radar had discovered hundreds of lakes in the northern region of Titan. Scientists think they are filled with liquid methane. But only VIMS will be able to confirm whether that's true or not.

>>Robert Brown:
The most obvious thing you would guess at it that material in these lakes would be liquid Methane. But that's as far as it's gone. The only way we're going to be certain is to use our instrument and determine what the chemical composition is. And we're working on that now. We're getting close. And while I'm not willing to say exactly what's there, I think we will -- we either know now based on the evidence we have or we will know pretty soon.

>>Pam White:
So Dr. Brown says if it weren't for VIMS, many discoveries about the geologic histories and processes in the Saturnian system would never have been made.

>>Robert Brown:
It has exceeded our expectations. Both because it's been such a reliable instrument. But also because it's turned out to produce so much in the way of interesting science. And science that actually, in many ways, we didn't anticipate that we would make the kinds of discoveries that we did before we got to Saturn. Some of them, we did, but many of them, we didn't.

>>Announcer:
it's Graduation Day at the Arizona Department of Public Safety Headquarters. 22 law enforcement officers from the DPS, the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Maricopa Sheriff's Office took part in a ceremony marking the end of their training that will allow them to perform immigration enforcement duties. Learn more from the DPS director Thursday at 7:00 on "Horizon".

>>Matthew Whitaker:
Thank you for joining us on this Wednesday evening. I'm Matthew Whitaker. Good night.

>>Announcer:
if you have comments about "Horizon," please write to the addresses on your screen. Your name comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon."

>>Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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