Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 25, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Legislative Update


  • Arizona Capitol Times reporter, Jim Small, provides an update on the state budget from his office at near the State Capitol.
Guests:
  • Jim Small - Arizona Capitol Times
  • Marty Shultz - Chairman, State School District Redistricting Commission
  • Chris Thomas - General counsel, Arizona School Board Association and President, Madison Elementary District's Governing Board
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
>>Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon," an update on budget hearings that took place today at the State Capitol.

>>Ted Simons:
The pros and cons of the redistricting of many of our states school districts.

>>Ted Simons:
And we visit rattlesnake country to see what's made in Arizona. That's coming up next on "Horizon."

>>Ted Simons:
Hello and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

>>Ted Simons:
State lawmakers went from no budget to multiple budgets in a matter of days. The House released its version on Monday. The Senate followed up with a plan of its own. Today lawmakers began moving budget bills through the process. They hope to agree on a single plan they can send to the Governor before the end of the fiscal year which happens to be next Monday.

>>>Ted Simons:
Earlier, Arizona Capitol Times Reporter Jim Small gave us an update on today's budget activities.

>>Jim Small:
Well, right now what's happening is the House budget looks like it's getting ready to move forward. The bill's gone through the Appropriations Committee and put them on the floor and abate them and possible amend them and after that, all the indications are they will vote it. It's unclear whether or not House Republican leaders actually have the votes to do this. Most people down at the Capitol say they don't actually have them and they will be a couple votes short. They need 31 to pass. Last best estimate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 29-30 tops they will be able it get. Meanwhile in the Senate, things are happening over there. It's fluid process. The bills actually haven't been filed yet. They're still putting the final touches on them the legislatures and the governor are. Hopefully they said they will get them done tonight. The plan, last I heard, was to put them through the committee in the Senate and take them to the floor and send them to the House and House possibly acting on them later tonight.

>>Jim Small:
In an attempt in Senate to put a measure on the ballot outlawing gay marriage failed today. It failed by a 14-11 vote. The fact they voted on it today is surprising. The motion came out of nowhere. Senator Ron Gould of Lake Havasu City made the motion to go ahead and vote on the bill and put it on the ballot in the fall. There are 16 people who have to sign on as sponsors of legislation, 16 of the Republicans. Of the 16, only 15 were there. You need 16 votes to get something passed. When it was obvious it wasn't going to pass, one of the senators, Republican senators changed the vote to no for the purposes of possibly reconsidering the bill later on this year assuming the session doesn't end in the next day or two.

>>Ted Simons:
Lawmakers are continuing to meet this evening. We'll keep you updated on their progress the rest of the week on "Horizon."

>>This November, voters will decide whether to reduce the number of school districts in Arizona. There's a statewide plan to take 76 districts and combine them into just 27. We'll discuss the pros and cons in a moment, but first David Majure explains how it all got started.

>>David Majure:
Arizona's School District Restricting Commission was created by state legislature in 2005. It was charged with a designing a district unification plan to send to voters this November. A plan to merge elementary school and high school districts with an eye towards saving money and education. They took a look at roughly half of the state's 218 school districts. They considered 108 stand alone elementary school districts and 15 union high school districts. After two years of work and public input the commission adopted a plan to turn 76 high school and elementary districts into just 27 unified districts. The largest would be located in Phoenix. The commission has proposed merging Phoenix Union High School District with 13 separate elementary districts to form a new K-12 district with over 100,000 students. The unification plan would have to be approved by a majority of voters to go into effect. This November voters in nine Arizona counties will have a say on school district unification plans affecting more than 300,000 students.

>>Ted Simons:
Joining me to talk about school district consolidation is Marty Shultz, chairman of the State School District Redistricting Commission and Chris Thomas, general counsel for the Arizona School Board Association and president of Madison Elementary District's Governing Board. Thank you, gentleman, for appearing here.

>>Marty Shultz:
Glad to be here.

>>Chris Thomas:
Thank you.

>>Ted Simons:
Marty, why do Arizona school districts need to be changed?

>>Marty Shultz:
The school districts we're referring to are the independent elementary districts and independent high school districts. It's clear in the piece. For example in the Phoenix Union High School District area, there are 13 elementary districts that feed. That means we have 13 principals, 13 sets of administrators, 13 food services. There are a lot of duplications. The objective was to use the precious education dollar more effectively by driving more money in the classroom. Ted, there are districts in the Phoenix Union Area--I could name several but I will identify one. The Osborne Elementary District that literally spends 51\% of the total education dollar in administration and 49\% in the classroom. This grew up historically. We don't blame Chris a member of the school board or school board members or others. We're in the 21st century and it's time now to set these school districts up that are not unified to perform in a more effective manner.

>>Ted Simons:
Is duplication the biggest reason that you think the bigger districts make sense?

>>Marty Shultz:
Duplication is one of the reasons. But districts that are independent elementary districts are not K-12, and so there's not continuous curriculum. The biggest for me and the commission has to do with the prospect of actually utilizing the education dollar more effectively by putting the money in the classroom for the benefit of the classroom teachers, for the benefit of the support of education system which means for the students. This is about the students. It's not about the school board members.

>>Ted Simons:
Why is the idea, this idea of consolidation not a good idea?

>>Chris Thomas:
Well, it's in the good idea because it won't do the things the commission says it will do. I think we are trying to create a record and make informed voters. The fact of matter is it won't reduce administrative costs of the districts that have done this in the past have not realized any administrative savings. Looking at data non-unified districts don't spend significant less amount in the classroom than other unified districts. The fact of the matter is if you look at the auditor general report six of the top ten districts in the large category are non-unified. In the medium category that's 5 out of 10. If unified districts were so efficient in terms of putting more money into the classroom you would expect the numbers to be 10 out of 10. You don't see that. Moreover when it comes to the curriculum issues, the fact of the matter we have aligned standards right now. It is meant to map out what student is supposed to learn at a particular point in their academic career. We have to align the curriculum with the standards whether a k-8 system, a high school system or unified system.

>>Ted Simons:
Back to the idea of larger districts not making a difference. These districts that have consolidated are they so much in an island, are they so separate from whatever else goes on they are separate and removed from being able to succeed?

>>Chris Thomas:
I don't think so. I think the fact of the matter is that, you know, are larger districts, do they have better economies of scale is true. That's true. We're talking larger school districts not larger K-12 District. If a district is elementary district and larger, they are able to put slightly more amount in the classroom. What is the biggest problem in education in Arizona? It's not that we don't divide the pie correctly. It's that the pie's not big enough to begin with.

>>Marty Shultz:
I totally disagree with that. I know I have limited time. He can't refute each of the data points that Chris mentioned. This is Chris, my friend, by the way. He's flat out wrong. Let me give you a couple of Deer Valley, Mesa Unified School District. Of the unified school districts puts more money in the classroom and almost all of the elementary that are independent. This is about kids. This is about education and about the dollars to put into education. Ted, we spend $8 billion a year in education in Arizona. For Chris Thomas, a school board member to tell me that they can't use the money for efficiently sounds like to me resistance. Resistance to change. I do appreciate the uncertainty that this has brought to Chris and his colleagues. But the school board's association which is probably going to oppose this after they supported the legislation and helped us fashion it, which I find a little bit disingenuous. They are making a mistake and we are trying to improve the public education. The status quo won't work. Asking for more money when the system needs help won't work. By the way I have gotten calls from teachers, administrators and school board members saying Marty and the commission keep going because you are doing the right thing driving the money to the classroom.

>>Ted Simons:
Chris, I've heard this criticism before that they don't want change.

>>Chris Thomas:
The fact of the matter we do embrace change when it makes sense. This doesn't make sense. Gloss over the fact that we don't have enough money to spend in education. How do you get away from the states out of country including D.C. we're 50th out of 51. Now that's not a division of the pie problem. You could make us like Hawaii and we would be next to last in per pupil funding. When Marty makes a mention that Osborne School District spends 51\% of the dollar in administration. That's not accurate. 51\% doesn't get into the classroom that doesn't mean it's all administration. The fact of the matter is on central administration Arizona is significantly below the national average in terms of what we spend. We're at 9.5\% and the national average is 11.5\%.

>>Marty Schultz:
That's not what the auditor general says. They said Arizona was slipping and below the national average. We can have the battle of the data stars any day you want. We can both put up or data. I think it's really more common sense and more fundamental than that. That is when you have multiple school districts that are independent and multiple, we mentioned the superintendents, that's not fair. Bottom line we are beyond this little 3,000 student school districts. The classroom is where the action is. The dollars should follow. And I believe and I am disappointed, I believe that the school boards will ultimately be opposed to it because that's the way their structure is. They sort of keep insular. That's disappointing.

>>Ted Simons:
It's disappointing but is there not a chance if we go through the district and everything you want happens that the results will simply not follow? That there's a concern it may not happen?

>>Marty Shultz:
Not a chance. Let me tell you why, because people like Chris Thomas and other school board members are manage through the transition. In other words in is about local control. It's true the school boards don't want to do this because they have to make tough decisions about dollars to the classrooms. There's no excuse not to do it. I have every confidence if the voters say yes--by the way this is individual decisions in individual school districts. If they say yes about creating new unified districts K-12 in Arizona, I'm confident that the local leaders will do an excellent job of unifying the districts.

>>Ted Simons:
If there's only so much to go around, so much cash in the bucket, doesn't it make sense to have fewer hands reaching into a budget?

>>Chris Thomas:
Sure. The fact of the matter is even when you get in larger unified school districts you don't see difference in terms of administration. He mentioned Mesa School District and great by any measure and largest. True they have one superintendent but they have three area superintendents and number of assistant superintendents beyond that. The fact of the matter is you need a certain amount of administration for a certain size of school district. One thing I want to mention is cuts the academic success. The one thing we know from research is kids do better in small schools. It doesn't say that about large districts or small districts. The small schools particularly. The small schools tend to be in small districts not large districts. That's one that cuts against the argument.

>>Marty Shultz:
Wait a second. We might actually have an agreement here. This is about small schools and something more important and that's what goes on in the classrooms in the small schools. Our analysis shows we can drive more money into the classrooms. Elementary school teachers are discriminated against because they don't get paid like high school teachers. But, in unified districts there is a unified salary schedule that they all get paid. In Chris' district they are paid less. The third grade teacher at the Madison School is discriminated against versus the high school Algebra teacher. All the research, Chris, shows us clearly that early childhood education is important in fact more important than many of the other developmental areas. One last thing to say state standards about K-12 in a general sense and think it translates into a articulation of curriculum going forward not under one roof is a big mistake.

>>Ted Simons:
Why is that a mistake?

>>Martin Shultz:
Why is that a mistake? Because the antidotal data says what do we do to prepare for high school. The high school teachers say these kids, what were these teachers thinking about in 7th and 8th grade? If they are not under one system, there's a less of a chance at least that they're going to get the kind of curriculum that is continuous, that is the basis for learning. So to say that the unified school districts in Arizona test scores for example are not as good as some of these elementaries. Look at the unified districts. They are much stronger than the independent elementary school and high school districts.

>>Ted Simons:
Chris, does this not outline the curriculum more?

>>Chris Thomas:
No. The fact of the matter is the state requirements and state law that you have standards and you measure the teachers and curriculum and schools based on the achievement of students. That's the law. Fact of the matter it's exception not the norm that a student starts in one school district in kindergarten and finishes in the same school district by 12th grade. We are a highly transitory state and highly mobile and some student populations are even more mobile than even average. That's what the standards are meant to account for. I think this is overselling this plan. That's what I really have a problem with unification as it's being sold. The fact of the matter is there are three things that matter in terms of education. This is what I've learned in nine years of working for the School Board's Association. It's quality teaching, a rigorous curriculum and support from home. Unification is not going to accomplish any one of those things.

>>Ted Simons:
Marty mentioned $8 billion on education. It sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. What's going on? Why are we not seeing better results?

>>Chris Thomas:
It's a significant investment. I would contest the fact that we are not seeing good results because we're 50th in the country in terms of funding and yet by most measures about national average in terms of performance. You are able to do average with rock bottom funding I think is an accomplishment. Not as good as we could do but it's showing we are making great strides.

>>Ted Simons:
Are we making great strides?

>>Marty Shultz:
We are not making strides good enough to produce scientists, mathematicians, to produce people who are prepared for the 21st century. If we look at the test scores we have a lot kids in the schools. There's a one-million-three-hundred-thousand kids in the schools. And in this case we there's three-hundred-thirty-thousand schools in districts proposed for unification. Can we do better and be more effective with the monies invested? Absolutely. Should we avoid the duplication and use the money for the teacher and classroom for benefits of the students? Absolutely. The resistance to the improvement is remarkable here and disappointing because we worked with the school boards on this legislation on this set of unifications and now they come out of the chute so to speak very negative and very resistant. I'm wondering why that is.

>>Ted Simons:
We have 30 seconds left. Why is that?

>>Chris Thomas:
I think the fact of the matter is the members who represent community and parents and teachers have said they don't like it. It's almost uniformly. And again, these are not people protecting their self-interest. They represent people.

>>Ted Simons:
We have to stop it right there. Thank you so much, gentleman.

>>Chris Thomas:
Thank You.

>>Ted Simons:
This week we've been showing you all kinds of neat stuff made in Arizona. Tonight, producer David Majure and photographer David Riffle take us to Cochise County, not far from Tombstone, where rattlesnakes live in fear of becoming fashion accessories.

>>David Majure:
John Weber always wanted to be a cowboy but cattle were never his calling. Rounding up rattlesnakes is more his style.

>>John Weber:
My parents never let me bring snakes into a house as a little kid and now I'm paying them back for that.

>>David Majure:
A former contract administrator for an aerospace company, John and his wife, Sandy, started catching the critters in 1979. That's the year they got married, quit their jobs and moved from Rockford, Illinois, to Phoenix, Arizona.

>>John Weber:
We decided once we got to Arizona, we would have to figure out what to do for a living. One of first things we saw was someone was selling a rattlesnake hat band for $50. And we thought maybe we could do something with that.

>>David Majure:
They have been turning snakes into stuff ever since. They used to sell it at flea markets. Now they have store of their own. It's a trailer 15 miles east of Tombstone not far from the middle of nowhere.

>>John Parris:
This is a great place.

>>David Majure:
Rattlesnake Crafts is more than a store. It's an experience.

>>John Parris:
Look at it. This is one of the places if somebody comes to visit from back east, we get these pilgrims out here, we bring them out here.

>>David Majure:
The Webers have assembled a vast collection of treasure or trash depending on your point of view.

>>John Parris:
This is history up here hanging on walls. You have pieces here that museums would probably kill for.

>>David Majure:
The relics are not for sale, some of the rocks are. But you'll have to go inside the trailer to do most of your shopping.

>>John Weber:
We don't wait on our customers at all.

>>David Majure:
No fussy store clerks here. This place works on the honor system. Put your money outside in the box outside the trailer and write down what you took.

>>John Weber:
We went to Disneyland and came back three days later and looked in the cash box and there was $300 some dollars in there. There was a $100 bill on top of other money. We thought, you know, can you imagine someone coming out to this place in middle of nowhere and looking in that cash box and seeing $100 bill and leaving it there, you know. We find that 99\% of the people that come out here are very honest. We always think the crooks are in the cities. They are not out here in the country.

>>David Majure:
John and Sandy enjoy their rural lifestyle. They live in trailer just a stone's throw from their store.

>>John Weber:
It's the ideal life for a lazy, retired couple.

>>Sandy Weber:
I just love it. I love the peace. I love the quiet. I love the scenery.

>>David Majure:
They have seven kids from previous marriages. Sixteen grandkids who love to visit.

>>John Weber:
Whenever they come I always think if I was 8 years old again I would love a grandpa that lived out in the boondocks and, you know, did something goofy like this for a living.

>>David Majure:
Goofy as it is, they take their job seriously. They do their hunting at night during the hot summer months and they always abide by the law.

>>John Weber:
Arizona game laws allow you to catch four diamondbacks per day and four Mojave's per day. We never catch anything close to that.

>>David Majure:
One year they did the math --- it took more than nine hours of hunting for each snake they caught.

>>John Weber:
We decided 20-some years ago to never handle them. We have never been bitten.

>>David Majure:
They play it safe and they work together.

>>John Weber:
Sandy has her jobs and I have mine. We seem to get along pretty well the way we divided them up. It came naturally. She gets most of the tough stuff.

>>Sandy Weber:
This is where I pin them out and put their little coatings on them.

>>David Majure:
Sandy's in charge of skinning the snakes and tanning the hides.

>>Sandy Weber:
I wear rubber gloves just like a surgeon. They get scraped with a thin butter knife with no serration on it whatsoever so I don't tear them. And then they get pinned on, flesh side up, and I paint on a coat of alcohol, glycerin and formaldehyde. Except formaldehyde is hard to find, so we go to the local mortuary and I get body cavity fluid.

>>David Majure:
After Sandy does the dirty work; it's John's turn to shine. He uses scissors, glue and his imagination to design everything from wallets to jewelry.

>>John Weber:
This one's got a nice pattern.

>>John Weber:
Sandy has a treddle sewing machine to sew around the edges to give it a firm bond. We use the head, tail, ribs, vertebras and the fangs and we use everything except the entrails. We make jerky out of the meat. They usually like it as long as you keep the pieces small.

>>David Majure:
There's a little something for everyone at Rattlesnake Crafts. John and Sandy do their best to give their customers what they want and keep them coming back for more.

>>Ted Simons:
Thursday on "Horizon" we continue our made in Arizona series with a tour of a local candy factory in Glendale. And we'll talk with an ASU professor who is the editor of a new book about African American sports icons. That's tomorrow on "Horizon." that it is for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

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