Education Roundtable

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Arizona lawmakers pass a state budget to close the state’s $1.6 billion dollar deficit. Budget cuts include nearly $300 million dollars to K-12 and higher education. Hear from Dr. Jim Zaharis,Vice President of Education for the Greater Phoenix Leadership and former Superintendent for Mesa Unified School District, Dr. Lattie Coor,Chairman and CEO for the Center for the Future of Arizona and former President of ASU, and Mike Martinez, Superintendent of the Cartwright School District and President of the Arizona Hispanic School Administrators Association on what the cuts mean now and for the future of education in our state.

José Cárdenas
>> good evening and thank you for joining us. the state legislature's special session ended early Saturday morning, resolving a $1.6 billion dollar budget deficit. It contained some of the biggest cuts Arizona has ever seen, with reductions in welfare and social service programs, and nearly $300 million in k-12 and higher education. The governor and legislative leaders say more cuts may be needed as the state faces the reality of a $3 billion deficit in 2010. joining me tonight is a roundtable of education advocates to talk about what these cuts mean to our state. Dr. Jim Zaharias, vice president of education for the greater phoenix leadership and former superintendent for the mesa unified school district. Dr. Lattie Coor, Chairman and C.E.O for the center for the future of Arizona and former president of A.S.U and Mike Martinez, superintendent of the Cartwright school district and president of the Arizona Hispanic school administrators association. gentlemen, thank you for joining us on "horizonte." and Jim, let's start with the amount of the cuts. $300 million to k-12 and higher ed. were you surprised?

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> well, no. the deficit was there, the budget has to be balanced. education is the largest segment. I was not surprised, but I was disheartened by the amount of the cut and the severity and what it means to all that we've tried to build in these last eight, 10 years and it's very severe.

José Cárdenas
>> and mike, what does it mean to people at the school district level?

Mike Martinez
>> for us, it represents a double head. we were already dealing with a significant enrollment loss in the neighborhood of 1600 students, so we were already well, you know, ahead of the game in terms of trying to deal with that deficit. but we were preparing our staff and our population for what the legislature might do. so when you add that, it certainly represents a significant and very dire situation for us with the potential for up to 100 staff members leaving us and other cuts in other programs.

José Cárdenas
>> we're talking in '09 though?

Mike Martinez
>> just in '09, just for this year, we're preparing for next year and, of course, were looking at finding out what the legislature might do for the '09-'10. But our losses were the first phase for us, and what we've indicated to staff.


José Cárdenas
>> and Jim, there was some suggestion that some of the people in leadership would be targeting programs they thought were holdovers or favored programs from the Napolitano administration, particularly all-day k. how did all-day k fare in these budget cuts?

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> it's my understanding thus far that all-day k is in place and I'm sure it will be discuss at length as we go to the '10 budget, but so far it is still in place.

José Cárdenas
>> Lattie, your center has been focused on Latino dropout. What do you expect will be the impact of these budget cuts?

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> the key we've found in finding schools, low-income school, schools with youngsters who have not performed often at their grade level is the consistency and continuity that the school can bring to bear to improve their ability. Cuts of this magnitude, recognizing that this is the first of two steps that are going to take place this spring, the first step being the budget that was just adopted for the five remaining months of this school year, fiscal year. and even larger cut in however it's proportioned, that will take place April, May, June, for the year that begins July 1st suggests to me, looking at the work we've been doing, that it will represent a very serious blow to that kind of consistency, continuity, ability to keep the school focused and the resources focused in improving student achievement.

José Cárdenas
>> and Mike, Cartwright has a very significant Hispanic population. how do you see these cuts impacting them?

Mike Martinez
>> the percentage of our population being Latino or Hispanic, it's 90% and of that, nearly 50% of that group are English language learners and the remaining are for all intents and purposes, second language learners in English. So Lattie is correct were looking at a situation and because of that demographic, it's pretty obvious that we need to have programs to continue to deal with a very special population. so for us, the cuts represent a step back, especially when you look at the enrollment loss and you add our phase one to the steps one and two that have been described, and so it's a real severe hit to the district. and how it translates in terms of student achievement or will translate remains to be seen. we're trying to make some efforts to prepare our staff to stay the course because we've spent a tremendous amount of money in staff development, specifically geared toward dealing with our population, and a lot of the people we may see go are people of quite a few dollars have been spent on that staff development. so it's a tragedy, to say the least.

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> José, one of the reasons, I think this is so hard to kind of absorb, is that we had a rather substantial surplus in Arizona in '06. the economy's kind of that way here. largely because the tax structure is that way. it tends to be -- to reflect more the activity of the moment. and in my own experience here over the last 19 years, about every seven or eight years there's a cyclical run. when we had the good times, when there was a -- good times, a surplus, just two and a half, three years ago, part of it was put in a rainy day fund, thank goodness, because that's been used to soften it, but a major part of it was -- became a tax cut. and I will stay away from the -- I don't know the right combination, I can't present the right combination, but at the time, many of us said, well, these are the good times, this particular tax structure was important the last bad time we had. why don't you just do a rebate? don't keep the money, do a rebate. but don't cut it, because if we hit those bad times again, and this was before we realized this bubble was going to burst, we will lose ground. not just in the moment we have, but lose ground that we've been very valuably building up to now. and I think that's what makes this the toughest to grapple with. the one-two punch of the current year, the next year, because the state is facing very serious fiscal problems, the kind of capacity to even add out wasn't retained and used.

José Cárdenas
>> and I want it talk about solutions and long-term fixes because what you hear is we've got a structural problem here. but before we do that, Lattie, the cuts to higher education, I think the universities were expecting $100 million, it turned out to be $140 million and we've seen announcements of layoffs.

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> that's the second round for 09'.

José Cárdenas
>> for '09.

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> there was an earlier round for '09 and when you take what was voted the end of '08, it's a three-part punch that is in proportion to the total budget, and remember, universities have come to have to draw major parts of their revenue from tuition. tuition for Arizona students has gone up quite significantly in the last five to eight years. on the premise that the states share should be tempered by other sources of revenue. private giving, research, support other sources of revenue. the magnitude of these cuts in a very significant way is because it reduces the state's share. the state is now a partner with these other sources, by far and way the largest percentage as we've seen. from A.S.U's point of view, it drops the state's share per student back into the '90s and the proposed cuts that are on the docket for the coming year, the ones that will take place beginning July 1st, would push the state's share of supporting every student back into what was there in the '80s before I came to A.S.U in 1990.

José Cárdenas
>> Jim, there are those who respond and say it's not that bad. we're exaggerating the impact for example we have Bob Robb's column in Wednesday's "republic," saying an if you look at this over the last five years you have even after the fixes as he described them, an 8% increase in general fund support, and then looking specifically at k-12, a 35% increase over the last five years, and he says so it's really not that draconian in terms of cuts.

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> I don't think most educators agree with that point of view, because you have to look at what you believe to be the purpose of education. and let me offer context. we, as a business community, and me as a educator, believe that the significant asset of a state is its people and the development of its people. you have about a million 100,000 people - that is the talent pool that this state needs to develop and encourage, be able to be highly skilled so they can be high waged people in our state for economic vitality. if you believe the mission of education to be small, perhaps you don't feel it's draconian. but if you believe it's critical to the growth of the state, its economic vitality, and its quality of life, we would want, as Lattie said, we would want to be putting a target out there that we are ever growing to continually improve and we have challenges in our state as we continue to educate our population. so we would be advocates for looking at it as an investment and trying to improve over time. and we have to look at tax policy, we have to look at a way to create a more stable environment of revenue in our state in order that we can deal with the cyclical peaks and valleys that we see the way our economy is structured. so we don't have the growth and then severe cuts. you cannot have the continuous improvements you need with that kind of cycle.

José Cárdenas
>> mike, along the same thing, people would say the last five years have been good for education, but if you put it in the bigger historical context, what do you see as education has been treated in good times and bad.

Mike Martinez
>> I tend to believe that education, we have fared well enough to keep our heads above water, perhaps, but only just to the degree that we had a fixed percentage as it related to the 301, 2%. when someone says we've grown in percentages, such as mentioned, we're looking at a population that has grown quite a bit. you've got to factor in the costs for that, but in relative term, an individual student, per student increase, we've done better than we have had in the past but especially as it relates to English language learners, I think most people know we're bogged down in a 15-year lawsuit because we believe the funding for English language learner population, I use that as one example as how much the education community has had to work to get its fair share or what we believe is the right thing to do for that investment that Jim talks about. it is indeed, an investment. if we don't invest in our students in a manner that's commensurate with the need, we're dooming our population to a far lesser quality of life than we presently have.

José Cárdenas
>> Lattie, I want to come back to the subject you touched on and Jim got into in more detail in terms of solution. But before that the cuts to Arizona science foundation, they took the cuts away. Seemed to surprise everybody including the speaker of the house.

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> the process by which the '09 budget was completed is not the kind of way laws ought to be done. admittedly, we were in a difficult position because we were already approaching seven months of the 12 months of the budget year being treated so they had to move forward, but in a three-day session, in which a very clear set of understandings about the way in which the state would meet its obligation, it had committed $25 million a year over a four-year period, matched by private funds, to have science foundation Arizona, which is itself committed to a variety of educational and scientific programs.

José Cárdenas
>> particularly the biosciences.

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> the biosciences, but in science in general, that it would be met. and when it was clear, we had very tough times, the participants, the advocates and people responsible for science Arizona say these are tough times and we still have to match these. let's go to 22.5, and then as the negotiations went further, before the session series that led to a decision like that, let's go down to 17.5, so there was reasonableness as it went into the sessions that were no longer involving the advocates and the participants and out came zero. out came zero. so it was x-ed out altogether. and when I mentioned the notion of continuity and stability, if it has to be reduced, it has to be reduced, that's reality, just as every family budget does, but to just x it out when conservatively, five to six to seven years of concerted effort by the business community, by the scientific community, have gone into building our bioscience sector, recruiting people here. putting an investment in, with the science foundation Arizona partnership at its heart, to have it x'd out like that is not only problematic for the moment, but it's a very poor message, a very bad signal as to how much diligence Arizona is going to display in pursuing these larger very important goals.

José Cárdenas
>> Jim, the science foundation Arizona was a particularly favorite project of greater phoenix leadership. they were involved in the establishment. as I understand it, part of the bad message -- is that the legislature also swept back funds that had already been committed for projects.

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> I'm hearing that, and I hope that remains to be seen. I do not have the exact facts on that, but we hope there's remaining discussion on this, to be able to --

José Cárdenas
>> but for right now -- that would be one consequence.

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> there are legal and contractual arrangements that have been made that may not have that outcome. I think we need to be careful and thoughtful and see if we can work it through. let me go back to the premise. the premise of the business community is that we have to, one, diversify the economy, two, we have to remain in difficult times with our core institutions intact, able to grow back out of this. these are the places where we can grow back out. science foundation Arizona represents this incubator place of ideas and the ability to grow a variety of industries that are important and new to Arizona. and so we have felt, and it's important for me to say, I'm a educator, but for me to watch the business leaders step up and put their own money on the line to fund this so that any tax money that came in would be critical to the major mission of the organization, to develop new industry, encourage research and grow industry here is vital and so that's the perspective here, is that we want to keep -- so as we go to the 2010 budget, we think it's very important to keep this dialogue, certainly look at the cuts that have to be taken in this difficult time for our nation and state. but also try to keep the core things intact so we can come back out of that. do that, we have we have to look at cuts but we have to look at revenue possibilities, we have to look at whether they should be permanent or short term. we have to look at debt financing for assets that have life beyond 25 years and not fund them out of cash. we have to look at a series of options. at least they have to be a part of the total discussion. and 2010 budget appears to be more difficult than what we're facing right now.

José Cárdenas
>> so --

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> we need to keep this bigger picture in mind and not just focus on the here and now, but how do we want to come out of this and be a stronger state down the road and prevent this cycle from occurring to the degree it's occurring in our state now.

José Cárdenas
>> does that mean taxes are on the table?

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>>revenue enhancements are taxes.

José Cárdenas
>>but you've got a legislature for whom that's anathema.

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> I understand, but the discussion has to be -- all of the options have to be part of the discussion and whether the enhancements of one form or another need to be discussed on a temporary basis, my personal opinion, that's a legitimate way to approach that. we need bridges to get us through this. it may end up there are none. There are no revenue enhancement or debt financing. as thoughtful people go through they need to examine all of these, not only the short term, which absolutely requires a balanced budget, but also the long term, and what assets do you protect to help you for the long term?

José Cárdenas
>> I would like everybody's thoughts on this, but the legislature's feeling about taxing to support k-12 and higher education, do you think that reflects the way that the populace feels?

Dr. Lattie Coor
>> when there are public votes on funding education with additional taxes, one that is most vivid in my mind because I had the privilege of being a part of describing it, discussing it with citizens around Arizona, proposition 301 in 2000. citizens voted to increase taxes. it's not clear to me why it is not possible or at least not viewed as a logical step to put the question of the adequacy of our revenue on the table. put it on the table as part of a discussion. every family has to do that. every organization has to do that. the state ought to do that. to judge whether it is constructed in a balanced way, a way that is responsive to the current and future economic dynamic of the state. and then ask how well that serves and how it ought to be adjusted to serve as well as it must over time, to make that a part of the discussion. you don't have to lead to a consequence or a decision. but you have to have a discussion of that kind and I very much hope that will be part of the discussion as we enter the second phase of this, the budget for 2010. I don't know. I am -- I'm not personally close to that part of the conversation. but I certainly believe it's time to do that and I'd very much hope that kind of discussion takes place.

José Cárdenas
>> and mike, would the voters in the Cartwright school district support tax increases to avoid the detrimental things you think will occur because the budget cuts?

Mike Martinez
>> well for instance our community's been very supportive of the override. we passed the override a couple of years ago, and even though we thought it would be difficult, we felt if we constructed the message in the way we needed to, our community would support it and they did. now, the on the capital side, it's a different story with regard to the b bonds as they're called. and that secondary tax rate. but generally speaking, the public, even in a district like ours, we're one of the poorest districts in the state of Arizona, certainly there's a will there to support education, even at the -- the knowledge there's an added expense to the pocketbook. and I think that's statewide and I believe the governor said early on that all options are on the table. I don't know that revenue increases should not be part of the discussion. it seems to be the favorite thing to say, don't increase taxes, but at some point, for the common good that needs to be part of the discussion. when communities like mine are willing to look at overrides it should send a message to the legislature.

José Cárdenas
>> Jim, what about allowing local areas, school districts to vote on that, tax increases?

Dr. Jim Zaharias
>> that might be part of the discussion here. we've taken some functions to the state. school bonding being the most recent. where school construction is funde from the state, out or the general fund for cash and so it requires cash from the general fund and cannot be used for other purposes. it might be part of the discussion to see if some of that should go back to local districts in order to let local communities vote on those issues. you might examine school construction, bonding at the local. we have to deal with equalization so that there's ways to do that and might look at the overrides. should they be allowed at a larger percentage or temporary basis or allowed to exist for a longer term. as we're trying to be thoughtful how to solve this, how to make our state more stable and fund this important thing we call education for young people, we have to look at the options.

José Cárdenas
>> we'll be looking at all of options and I'm sure discussing on few shows. thanks for joining us.

Dr. Jim Zaharias:Vice president, Education for the Greater Phoenix Leadership and Former Superintendent, Mesa Unified School District;Dr. Lattie Coor:Chairman and C.E.O, Center for the future of Arizona and former President of A.S.U; Mike Martinez:Superintendent, Cartwright school district and President, Arizona Hispanic School Administrators Association;

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