State Made Bad Decisions

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The Arizona Legislature and former governor made big mistakes in balancing this year’s disastrous budget. The mistakes did not begin this month, but when lawmakers passed the budget last summer.

Despite numerous warnings from economists, and even the state treasurer, lawmakers chose to craft a budget that severely underestimated the state’s economic downturn.

The cuts now being proposed are bad. But even worse is that agencies ranging from those offering health care services to school districts will have to give up money they already counted on.

Even more troublesome is the mechanisms which legislators used to balance the $1.6 billion shortfall. They’re counting on $500 million in federal stimulus money to cover the deficit. This money should go toward reinvigorating the state’s economy, not propping up irresponsible government spending for yet another year.

Our elected officials had to make hard choices. And they failed miserably.

Payson schools will likely lose nearly $336,000 this year and maybe millions next year.

With the cuts in place, the consequences fall on school board members. The decisions they must make are no less difficult than the choices made by legislators.

The school board must not look to budget cuts with an eye on politics. They must reduce the workforce with an eye on talent, and not on nepotism or favor.

They must be creative. Old textbooks not replaced can be supplemented with Internet material. Administrators should cut their salaries to reflect the times, and possibly save programs. Energy consumption needs constant awareness. Make sure computers are turned off at night, as well as other electronics.

We saw what vigilant protesting can do. The universities’ budgets were spared the originally proposed dramatic cuts because they were loud and they made their case.

Payson and the schools must make their cases just as stridently. Arizona’s future must not be leveraged in the 2010 budget.

Lessons for elected officials

A leadership session by the Arizona School Board Association with Payson school board members was a great lesson, which outlined the role of all elected officials.

The small story in Tuesday’s newspaper starts out asking a question about how many board members does it take to screw in a light bulb. The correct answer, says the state school board official, is none.

That’s a telling statement for city, county, fire department, school board and other elected officials. We hope they all read that story.

Elected officials individually have no authority. They can’t tell anyone within their agency to do anything. As elected officials, they have the role and responsibility of creating and setting policy, not performing the work. Their administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the town or school.

The board can determine the quality and quantity of the light bulbs the district needs and decide if that is helping or hindering students’ learning. Once that decision is made, it is up to the superintendent to carry out that policy, not individual board members.

It is hard for elected officials to be at the school or at town hall and not start directing staff to do this or that. But they have to remember that as individuals, they have no authority.

We take exception to one thing the state school board representative said at that workshop. He told board members they cannot disagree or comment about a board decision once it has been made. That’s not true — being elected to a school board or town council does not deprive that elected official of his First Amendment right of free speech.

We certainly agree that board or town council members should not be discussing amongst themselves the business of the board anywhere except at an official meeting of the governing authority. Does that mean if two elected officials happen to meet each other at church or during a concert they can’t say hello or talk? Certainly not — as long as it is not the business of the governing authority they are talking about.

School board, town hall and fire board members have some of the toughest elected jobs. They are usually passionate and they want to do a good job and make decisions for the betterment of the agency they are governing. They are easily accessible to the public; most are neighbors or friends, unlike elected officials at the federal level. We applaud the difficult job they perform along with hoping they understand the important role they serve.

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