Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 13, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

State Schools Superintendent


  • Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne talks about the state budget crisis’ affect on education. He also addresses the lawsuit over the state’s English Language Learner spending, which is heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Guests:
  • Tom Horne - Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Hello, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona schools superintendent Tom Horne is taking some criticism for saying that next year's budget cuts shouldn't total more than 2% for most districts. Horne is also facing criticism for saying that school districts are over-reacting to proposed budget cuts. I'll talk to Tom Horne in a few moments, but first, we hear from two education officials making those charges.

Panfilo Contreras:
Well, I think the main reason he's wrong is that he's not in contact with the state legislature and the budget discussions that are going on. We're getting estimates from the joint legislative budget committee and the committees that are working on the budget in both the House and Senate, that they're estimating anywhere from 5% to 8% reduction in funds for public schools. I would think the superintendent of public instruction would be much more supportive of the issues that are online for school board members. The superintendent is a 20-plus year experienced school board member and knows what it's like to have to put budgets together not knowing what resources you're going to have for next fiscal year. We're not anywhere near solutions to the budget for fiscal year '10 and he's making predictions and deriding school board members for doing what they are legally authorized to do. State law requires that teachers that are not continuing to receive notice by April the 15th they're not going to have a contract for next year. If school boards were not doing the prudent thing and estimating what the worst case scenario would be and giving staff notices, they would be entering into contract for the next year, next fiscal year not having resources. So they’re doing the prudent thing.

Ted Simons:
Mesa Public Schools, the state's largest school district, is preparing for a huge budget cut in 2010. At a community summit last week, Mesa schools superintendent Debra Duvall said the state cut her district's budget by about $10 million this year. But the outlook for next year is much worse.

Debra Duvall:
If all we had to look forward to was the '09 cut being extended into '10, I would go hug every legislator there was. [Laughter]

David Majure:
Instead, the only thing Duvall is trying to get her arms around is the size of her district's budget in 2010. She's expecting significant cuts before lawmakers do a thing. For example, the district will lose about $13 million in prop 301 funding because state sales tax collections are down. The district expects 2,000 fewer students, a loss of $11 million.

Debra Duvall:
Aside from anything that the legislature may yet do, when we look to '10, we know already that there will be over $35 million worth of cuts to Mesa's current budget.

David Majure:
Lawmakers are likely to add to those cuts. They've been considering a long list of options but Duvall assumes they'll implement only the most logical options on their list.

Debra Duvall:
That's another $32 million. We're in the process of planning for a $67 million budget reduction to one school district in the state. The proposed, as I've described, cuts is about 15%-16% of our budget. There's no way that we will be able to accommodate even what appears at this point to be a reasonable approach without significant impact on staff. And, therefore, students.

David Majure:
And that, according to Duvall, is unacceptable.

Debra Duvall:
Speaking in teacher terms, if this were a student's paper that was handed in to be graded, I wouldn't give it an F. I wouldn't even accept it. [Laughter] I would say, you did not complete your assignment. [Laughter] You have not done what is expected of you. Go back to the drawing board.

Ted Simons:
Here now to talk about education funding for next year and other issues is Arizona schools superintendent Tom Horne. Tom, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Horne:
Great to be with you.

Ted Simons:
I want to get to what they've said and we'll come and go with what they've said. But you have said that the districts, especially, are overreacting to budget cuts. Explain, please.

Tom Horne:
This first came to my attention because we got calls from a teacher from a large district that gave layoff notices to 30% of their teachers and cut out all of their music teachers and arts and P.E. teachers. So I looked into it because I have easy access to information from the joint legislative budget committee and under the stimulus plan, Arizona can get $1.5 billion if they abide by certain rules. I assume the legislature won’t give up $1.5 billion. The rules say that the legislature cannot cut more than $800 million from K-12, and that the federal funds will back fill $600 million of that. The net cut is $196 million, which is 2%. Mesa's a special case, we saw in Mesa that they have a large -- unusually large decline in student population. If you have less students, you get less money to educate and that's obvious. But even she's talking about 15%, not 30%.

Ted Simons:
What should the school districts have done, instead of telling people as they were required by law by April 15th, what should they have done? They say they were erring on the side of caution.

Tom Horne:
And I can see erring on the side of caution. I would multiply by 3. When reporters ask me about districts that have given 5%, I say that’s reasonable. My estimate is 2%, but I could be off by a factor of 3. But 30% is out of the ballpark and so it's doing a lot of damage to issue excessive notices of layoff because teachers panic, they -- it hurts their morale and hurts the students because if the student -- the teacher morale is down, the student education suffers and it's unnecessary because they're going to hire back a lot of these teachers. When Panfilo says I should be supportive of the decision-makers, I'm supportive of the teachers. They're the ones that are educating our kids. I don't want them to take unnecessary psychological blows. 2%, 5%, 6% is reasonable. 30% is not reasonable.

Ted Simons:
You're saying it's more reasonable for districts to cut up to 6% as opposed to anything higher?

Tom Horne:
As opposed to 30%, let's say.

Ted Simons:
They'll say, the districts say that they can't, according to the numbers they've seen and according to the legislature, they can't promise jobs that may not be there.

Tom Horne:
Well, that's really the point of my getting them the information. I could understand that they might overreact if they don't have the information. It's my job to get them the information. If they do give too many layoff notices, I want to make sure it's not a failure on my part to get them information. Look what happened. I get them information and we got this huge overreaction from the leaderships of three groups. Including Panfilo, who issued a press release saying he sent me a letter which was a strong rebuke to me, expressing shock and outrage. And indeed, the letter was intellectually vacuous of facts and analysis, but strong on emotional words. Why would they overreact in that way? I think the answer is really what's important to your viewers, not this dispute here, but the underlying reason. There's a war going on not only in Arizona, but in this country, between those who feel we need to reform education and those who stand for the status quo. I have worked very hard every day to reform our education and raise the academic performance of our kids. The three organizations that sent the letters, including Panfilo’s organization, are status quo organizations. They have lobbyists at the legislature that every time the reform comes up, they're instructed to say, change? We can't have change. We're used to things the way they are. And it's that war between those who need to reform education so we don't lose the economic war with India and China that's coming, where we need better educated kids, against the status quo organizations.

Ted Simons:
These are public education officials. People who work in public education. You're the superintendent of public education for Arizona, should you not be on their side?

Tom Horne:
I'm on the side of the teachers, they're the ones teaching our kids and I say -- teaching our kids and I say don't overreact. Don’t send unnecessary layoff notices. Don't lay all of your music teachers and art teachers and P.E. teachers when an analysis of what was prepared by the joint legislative budget committee shows that the cut is going to be 2%. If you want to multiply by 3, make it 6%. I won't argue. But not 30%.

Ted Simons:
Again, these education officials and by way of the letter, they specifically pointed out the idea that you're not representing them. You're representing the other side. You're not necessarily helping them. You're trying to change what they're trying to do. You're not an advocate for them at the legislature.

Tom Horne:
I've been an advocate for 30 years to get more resources into education. 24 years as a school board member, four years in the legislature, six years as state superintendent and never had a higher priority than getting the legislature to get more resources to education. Far more than any of the officials that sent me that letter. And I represent -- it's true I represent a different side. I represent the students, the idea that we must educate our students and that's why I'm pushing for reform and they are constantly resisting reform.

Ted Simons:
What are you doing now by way of advocating for public education in the legislature?

Tom Horne:
I meet with the legislature all the time. I have proposals before them and I had one to increase the number of hours that our kids are in school. We're behind India and China on that. We need to improve with the districts and not just the schools. The status quo opposes that. Everything I do to raise the level of education and academic rigor in our classroom, the status quo organizations are opposed. That's a battle.

Ted Simons:
What about resources? I know what they're saying, all he's talking about is reform. We need resources. Where is he fighting for us for resources?

Tom Horne:
As I mentioned to you, I don't think there's an individual in Arizona who has fought longer and harder for resources for education than I have. 24 years on the school board, four years in the legislature. I spent 80% of my time talking with other legislators about the need to increase resources for education. No one is second to me in advocating for resources for our schools.

Ted Simons:
So you're saying they're not getting that message because --

Tom Horne:
Well, it's interesting. I would have been blameworthy if I hadn't gotten the facts out. Instead of saying, you know what, we should give a reasonable amount of layoff notices and not huge numbers; 30% of our teachers, which wreaks havoc with them and their students. Instead of doing that, they seize the opportunity to send out a press release saying that they’re giving a strong rebuke to me. What this is about is, I’m reforming education, they're standing in the way as far as status quo. Happily, the legislature doesn't always listen to them. We've been getting reform and improving education, notwithstanding the resistance of the status quo.

Ted Simons:
Does it make sense for a school district to say, the stimulus, the whole education cutting seems to be a moving target? Perhaps education as well. We can't let a teacher by July 15th or whenever it is, think they've got a job and then all of a sudden, cut that job in a market where jobs are difficult to find. We need to know and make these decisions so these teachers can go and find something else.

Tom Horne:
When reporters ask me about districts that have given notices to 5% of their teachers, even though I estimated 2%, I say that's reasonable. But when they give notices to30% of their teachers and music and arts and P.E., I say that's panic and does damage to the teachers and to the students. Those are unnecessary notices, they will be hiring back most of those teachers.

Ted Simons:
Can you guarantee they’re going to hire back most of those teachers?

Tom Horne:
Invite me back when we have a new budget and I'll give you exact numbers.

Ted Simons:
Before you take off, I want to ask how charter schools are doing in this environment. We're hearing about certain aspects of public education. What about charter schools?

Tom Horne:
We did a study, because there was a lot of controversy about who’s getting more money. We found charter schools were getting $900 less per student than the district schools. When we're able to put more money into education, we've got to bring that more into equilibrium. Some are doing outstanding jobs. There’s a range, some do better and some not as well. But overall, parental choice in Arizona has been very good for the students in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
We’ve got about 30 seconds left. A viewer wrote in wanting to know why some highly qualified teachers, as defined, were losing their jobs while those defined as not highly qualified were keeping theirs. What’s going on with that?

Tom Horne:
I sent another letter to the district superintendents, which I’m afraid maybe they didn’t pay attention to. I said if you do have to lay off teachers, you don't have to go by seniority, where you lay off the newer ones first. What this should be about is the students and there's a misconception where lawyers say you have to go by seniority. You have to invite me back about the case that’s going to the Supreme Court!

Ted Simons:
You’re just inviting yourself back on this show all the time! Tom, it's always a pleasure. Thanks for joining us.

Tom Horne:
Thank you.

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