By Naomi Hatch
State Senator Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, met with school superintendents from throughout Navajo County recently to hear their comments and concerns regarding education and education funding in Arizona. The Feb. 12 meeting was organized by Jason Whiting, chairman of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors.
Present were Snowflake Superintendent Hollis Merrell, Heber-Overgaard Superintendent Ron Tenney, Joseph City Superintendent Bryan Fields, Holbrook Superintendent Dr. Robbie Koerperich, Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Jalyn Gerlich, Northern Arizona Vocation Institute of Technology (NAVIT) Superintendent Matt Weber and Northland Pioneer College President Dr. Jeanne Swarthout, as well as a few teachers from the Snowflake-Taylor Schools.
“I never thought I would be Education chair,” Allen said. “Once I said I’d do it, I have been really excited.”
Allen had previously toured the Skills Center and stated, “I was really sick the cutting we did last year to JTE (Joint Technical Education) and funding.”
She noted that as soon as that bill passed, she started talking about how they could change it, stating, “I wasn’t the only one, a lot of legislators felt that way.” Allen then began visiting schools to see their programs and stated, “I became convinced one of my biggest projects is JTE classes. The kids love them.
“I firmly believe every kid leaving high school should have something to fall back on, even if they are going to college,” said the senator.
Last Thursday the Arizona Senate passed an emergency measure that Allen thought would go into effect early. They were waiting for the House to pass it, and Allen was frustrated that it had not already passed.
Weber expressed concern about one sentence that is not clear regarding what they would fund, and Senator Allen said she would get clarification and get back to him.
“I am really excited about the bills I am sponsoring,” she said, noting that one is about school grades so that Arizona will not be totally driven by a test. “I can see it took a lot of creativity out of our classrooms,” she said.
Allen said that as she has looked at education over and over again, parents feel that the quality of teachers is important to the school, and that they can’t get teachers, can’t keep quality teachers, teacher morale is low and teachers are not paid enough.
“I think our number one priority should be getting money to the teachers,” she said, then asked the superintendents how they feel the state should do that.
“I would like next session to run a bill to continue it, but a lot of talk about everyone wants to reform it,” said Allen referring to Proposition 301 money awarded based on teacher performance, which will be going away next fiscal year.
The superintendents agreed that discussion needs to be started on that money, because this is one of the things that hurts teacher morale.
Senator Allen then opened the discussion up to the superintendents, who expressed concern regarding vouchers and the fact that they do not follow the students, so a student can get a voucher for a school and then transfer to another school, but the first school keeps the voucher.
Each superintendent thanked Allen for the work she has done this year on behalf of the schools, and Swarthout reiterated that thanks, expressing appreciation for all she has done for community colleges regarding expenditure limitations.
The superintendents pointed out their concerns, and Allen said she would like to meet with them again in the near future to discuss Prop. 301, current year funding and vouchers.
“I want to try to turn things positive,” said Allen. “We’re ranked really low because of funding, but we all have stories to tell.
“I feel there’s an enthusiasm going on in education. We really aren’t going to solve these problems unless we have a real good dialogue, unless we’re all working together and talking about it. I want us every year to have a little bit more and a little bit more.
“The priority now is that we’ve got to focus on people,” the senator concluded.
Whiting will set up a meeting in the near future to discuss the current year funding, Prop. 301 money and vouchers.
By Naomi Hatch