The Payson School Board once again designated Superintendent Casey O’Brien its official legislative lobbyist — despite the qualms of board member Kim Pound.
The designation allows the superintendent to meet with state lawmakers and represent the district.
That has been an especially important job in the past several years as school districts statewide have fought a losing battle to stave off ever-deeper state cuts in support for education.
However, Pound said that in the past, O’Brien hasn’t done enough to keep the board informed about issues. As an example, he cited the nearly 50-percent jump in the district’s property tax rate this year, which came as a surprise to the board members. A big chunk of that increase came as a result of a vote by the Legislature to automatically adjust school property tax rates to compensate for an average 20-percent decline in assessed value. Payson’s assessed values dropped only 11 percent, which resulted in an extra large increase in the rate.
“I don’t want to be caught off guard again by something like the property tax rate increase,” said Pound. “I just wish we had a name for this besides ‘lobbyist.’”
O’Brien said “a lot of this has been more official, just in case I need to talk to a legislator.”
Other board members seemed happy to delegate the discussions with lawmakers to the superintendent. “Bet they won’t send us football tickets,” quipped board member Matt Van Camp, in reference to allegations about improper payments to officials on boards like the Fiesta Bowl Board and some school districts.
After the meeting, Pound said that many school districts rely on the superintendents to deal with lawmakers and that many of those superintendents have pushed for laws that effectively shifted power from the school board to the administration.
The way in which the school district sets the property tax rate provides one case in point. The Legislature establishes the ground rules and the district administrators in consultation with the county assessor set the rate. The school board does adopt the budget, but plays no role in setting the rate.
By contrast, the Payson Town Council sets its own property tax rate after a series of public hearings and votes at the end of its budget deliberations.
The Legislature has also assumed control of a bewildering array of district policies and procedures. For instance, at the last meeting the school board approved without discussion a consent agenda that included three, single-spaced pages of policy changes — almost every one the result of some change in state law and none of them reviewed in any detail by the school board.
Trying to influence the Legislature has proved both vital and frustrating in the past two years, as state support for education has dwindled.
Arizona ranks near last in per-student spending, according to Census Bureau figures.