Teachers Excluded From District Decision Making Process

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In the grand scheme of public education, the methods by which goals are reached and agreements made should be evenhanded and candid. Public education is not a business. It is a function of our society by which our future is forged.

I am writing this as a former schoolteacher who spent 37 years in the classroom, and I can say that often the reverse is true. Over the years, the process by which local decisions are made has become flawed.

Teachers have no real input in deciding how and where school funds are spent. Other than school children, they are the ones most affected by budget decisions.

There is a Superintendent's Advisory Council (SAC) in the Payson Unified School District through which classroom teachers can voice their concerns, but the council and has no real power.

In best-case budget scenarios, salary committees comprised of teachers meet regularly with administrators during the entire budget process to provide advice and counsel on how and where money should be spent.

Such is the case in larger, metropolitan school districts where bargaining teams meet and confer with administrators to make budget decisions.

In Chino Valley, a district similar in size to PUSD, Chino Associated Teachers (CAT) met with district officials on 15 occasions to help hammer out a budget and labor contract. When teachers are a part of the budget building process, morale in the district increases and finger pointing declines.

Also, a single administrator does not have to shoulder the tremendous burden of deciding where to spend budget dollars, as is now the case in PUSD.

Some Payson teachers argue that these sessions can become too confrontational. But if the right decisions are made and money is spent wisely, the disagreements are a small price to pay.

Ironically, Payson teachers, themselves, are part of the reason the district has no legitimate bargaining team.

A decade ago, a Payson Education Association team -- headed several years by Tim Fruth and Hans Schoenborn -- met regularly with administrators to help design a budget and salary schedule.

The PEA took to the meetings the clout and resources of both the Arizona and National Education associations, a powerful pair of organizations with more than 2.8 million member teachers around the country.

Even in the years teachers didn't receive substantial raises, most returned the next school year satisfied the negotiating team had done its best.

For a variety of reasons, local membership in PEA, AEA and NEA declined to the point that former school superintendent Russ Kinzer replaced PEA with SAC.

SAC is made up of good, well-meaning teachers, but their hands are tied.

They don't have the opportunities for budget training the AEA provides salary team members and it has no national membership to back it.

Sadly, the PEA has been reduced to a handful of members and is no longer recognized by the district.

Now that they've lived without it, it's time to rethink why teachers let go of the PEA and if it's time to bring it back.

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