Voters in the Flagstaff Unified School District will face two school-related money issues on the Nov. 6 ballot.
And when it comes to choosing from among five candidates running for three seats on the FUSD governing board, voters will have a choice on those money issues, too.
Three of the candidates, incumbents Sarah Ells and Paul Kulpinski and Richard Rice, support both of the ballot measures. One would raise $21 million for capital projects in the district. Another, Prop. 204, would make permanent the 1-cent state sales tax that goes largely for K-12 schools.
Jared Holland is voting "yes" for the school bond and "no" on Proposition 204.
And Christine Fredericks is undecided on both.
"I am leery to agree to a method of measurement without first reviewing the tool," wrote Fredericks about Prop. 204 in response to a series of questions by the Daily Sun while raising questions about school performance goals and teacher evaluations.
Holland objected to Prop. 204 because some of the money raised would not go to schools and, as a dedicated tax, it would not be subject to legislative oversight.
"Those desiring to transform the tax into a permanent funding source, regardless of prevailing economic circumstances, are not holding their elected officials responsible for proper management of tax dollars," he wrote.
Ells is backing Prop. 204 because the Legislature has not followed through with promises to replace the 1-cent tax with other funds.
"The intent of that proposition was to provide tax revenue for K-12 education, health and human services, and public safety," she wrote. "Subsequent legislative budget processes did not reflect the intent of the voters."
Rice agreed, saying state officials cannot be relied on to maintain adequate school funding levels.
"We need moneys set aside that the legislators can't put their hands on," he wrote.
Kulpinski said Prop. 204 is needed as a signal to businesses that Arizona supports an educated workforce.
"Not funding education is a signal to the world that Arizona and our community is not interested in our own success," he wrote.
As outlined by Arizona School Board Association, school boards are responsible for envisioning the future of public schools with direction from FUSD staff and the Flagstaff community. Candidates were asked what they saw was the single greatest challenge facing FUSD and how they would address it if elected.
Answers varied. Ells emphasized the complexity of establishing community support.
"It's a challenge," Ells said. "Trying to maintain excellent internal programs and at the same time responding to external factors such as budget cuts, changing standards and unfunded mandates."
Kulpinski advocated for more community outreach.
"I will communicate directly through my constituents," Kulpinski said. "Also as a member of the board, I will make it a priority to budget for outreach."
Fredericks listed hiring and retaining the best teachers as the main district challenge. Holland, while concerned about the budget, seeks the best education possible for children.
Rice continued the refrain of community representation, this time through school site-councils.
"State laws require that schools have committees with representatives from parents, teachers, staff, community. When I was gathering signatures, I heard that people felt they had to go through a long process in order to have their concerns heard," Rice said. "On the other hand, at charter schools, parents seem to have more contact with staff and what students are doing."
FUSD AND CHARTER SCHOOLS
Most candidates agreed there was an atmosphere of competitiveness with the charter schools that wasn't necessarily healthy.
Ells emphasized that funding sources were different for charter schools and district schools, but said, "where is the overlap and how can we work together to create a stronger support system for students in Arizona?"
"We have to work together for the best education of our students," Fredericks said. "Maybe there are some programs that students don't have access to at their school now that they would like to have access to, for example a big music or sports program at FALA."
"If a student is at a public school and not doing well but would do well at a program at Mountain School, send him over. If a student is at NPA but would do better at Basis, send her over," Holland said. "But money follows kids; scores drive enrollment, regardless that kids would do better elsewhere. Let's think about kids rather than draw dollar signs on kid's foreheads."
"(FUSD) has resources available because of scale: food service, transportation, human resources, payroll," Kulpinski said. "We have the opportunity to contract out to schools that need the services."
Rice said in his response that charter schools should motivate district schools.
DISTRICT AIMS SCORES
Most of the candidates are not satisfied with the district AIMS scores, although their reasons vary. Holland notes room for improvement especially in the area of writing. Fredericks and Kulpinski are displeased with the test.
"(We have greater hop in the PARCC) because we are directly involved in designing it," said Kulpinski. "We are on the frontline with teachers and educators."
PARCC is the test associated with Common Core curriculum.
Rice believes teachers would do better if allowed to teach. He said, "We hire people who we think can do the job and then we don't allow them to teach. Everything is too canned. We don't allow teachers to do what they do best. We don't allow them to change the curriculum if need be. If they teach fourth grade and the student is reading at third grade level, (we need to let teachers teach to the level) and master that level or the student will continue to go downhill instead of uphill."
FUSD ENROLLMENT UPS AND DOWNS
Kulpinski and Ells both see the recovery in enrollment due to changes in FUSD programming in recent years.
Rice is more skeptical of the efforts of the district, "all the parents who could leave the district already have."
Holland looks to the economy for the main reason of the student population decline.
"As economy has fallen enrollment has fallen," Holland said. "As they expand grades, charter schools are competition, but still the greatest loss came from the economy. As bankruptcy rates went down, we leveled off. Once we figure out the economy, school enrollment will go up."
Fredericks encourages the district to look at every program in every school to see what it has to offer in order to further increase enrollment.
SCHOOL CLOSURE AND RECONFIGURATION
School boards are responsible for recommending closing or constructing schools. In 2010, four schools were closed, and middle schools and high schools remained separate. The candidates were asked to comment on these decisions. Ells and Kulpinski both support the decision based on decreased enrollment and funding.
Rice also agrees with the decision but would have liked further staff reductions in District staff to maintain smaller class size.
Holland didn't agree or disagree with the decision but understood both sides. He understood it was the fiscally responsible decision.
Fredericks didn't initially support the decision but feels that it has been more successful than not.
"I hope that the school district continues to grow," she said. "I want to shoot for flourishing schools."
School board members hold unpaid four-year terms. The terms of the five board members are staggered, so they are not all seeking re-election at the same time. The seats that Dolores Biggerstaff and Miguel Vasquez hold will be up for election two years from now. Board member Chris Bavasi, whose term is up, did not seek re-election.
Cecile LeBlanc can be reached at 556-2261 or email@example.com.