Teachers Deserve More Than Empty Gestures

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We all love teachers — right? Pull the string on almost any politician — and they’ll tell you teachers are heroes and education is the key to our future. But once it comes time to adopt budgets, somehow priorities often change.

One need look no further than the latest round of state budget deliberations — and the array of no-win choices facing the Payson Unified School District. Lamentably, although voters and politicians often give lip service to the importance of teachers, our actions often say otherwise.

For instance, the Payson Unified School District will most likely close Frontier Elementary School and boost class sizes by 5 to 15 percent — with the biggest increases at the elementary school level where it will do the most damage. In the process, the district will likely lay off 20 staff — half of them teachers.

And that’s not enough — as we increase class sizes we’ll likely decrease teacher pay. The governor’s office has proposed taking away a $2,000 to $4,000 stipend over a period of years that the state pays Payson teachers who take lots of extra training courses and seminars.

Finally, the Legislature has added insult to injury when it comes to the rules governing layoffs. Lawmakers allow the districts to ignore both tenure and seniority in deciding which teachers to lay off in a budget crunch. So teachers who have served the district and their community for years can expect no loyalty in return from the state.

Now, we know school financing and school reform remains complicated and controversial. We know that a district with declining enrollment needs fewer teachers. We believe school principals ought to have more power to get rid of bad teachers. We know the Legislature must struggle with terrible choices.

But even granting all that, we also believe deeply that this state must improve the status and working conditions for teachers if we are to recover — and once again thrive.

Support for our teachers — and our children — must start with each citizen. As we care about our kids and our future, so we must care about our schools. That means showing up when the school board debates cutbacks. That means insisting politicians offer more than empty rhetorical support. That means getting involved with neighborhood schools and doing the hard work of understanding school and state budgets and then voting accordingly.

Otherwise, the empty rhetoric of the politicians will continue to cover real damage to our schools.

Who will pay pot tax?

The gold rush is on. All sorts of groups have emerged from the woodwork, hoping to cash in on Arizona’s new medical marijuana law.

The new, legal pot growers figure they’ll make a killing off a crop that grows like a weed — even in a warehouse — that they can chop up and sell for $200 to $450 an ounce.

Now the various cash-starved government entities have gotten a heady whiff of pot profits. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says the state ought to tax the dispensaries. He figures the tax will bring in $40 million.

Meanwhile, would-be dispensary operators have been showing up at Payson Town Hall and elsewhere, promising to make big contributions to local charities.

Reportedly, the federal government is poised to impose its own tax on medical marijuana.

Finally, we imagine the state will also clear the way to an additional tax imposed by cities. That’s what happened in California, Colorado and elsewhere.

That’s cool, dude. Why shouldn’t those potheads pay a little extra? Heck, better send the money to the state government than some Mexican cartel. Right?

Well, sure. We suppose so.

We were happily calculating whether the $40 million from the pot dispensaries could restore funding for gifted and vocational classes that Gov. Jan Brewer cut from her proposed 2011-12 budget. Heck, that’s enough money to like triple the operating budget for the state park system — which generates some $250 million annually in economic benefits to rural areas of the state like Rim Country.

But then we got to thinking.

The Department of Health Services is working hard on a set of regulations that will ensure only legitimately sick people can get a medical marijuana card. DHS seems determined to close the loopholes that made it possible for lots of recreational users to get their prescription. If DHS pulls it off, then some of the folks getting medical marijuana will be terminal cancer patients using marijuana to control the awful nausea caused by their chemotherapy drugs — and people suffering chronic pain from a variety of conditions.

Mind you, health plans won’t cover the cost of the medicine.

Still: It’s better than funding the cartels and arresting the cancer patients.

Right?

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