Thursday, January 22, 2009



The events of the past few weeks in Arizona have been of staggering proportion. The Cardinals, who had less respect than Rodney Dangerfield, are earning it everywhere and the average citizens of Arizona couldn’t be prouder. The Legislature, or at least the senior officials in control, in less than a week have shown they have absolutely no respect for Arizona’s average citizen, parent, or child.

Or, maybe it’s just me that thinks like that?

I’m 60, conservative, a Viet Nam vet, just a regular guy who votes in every election and believes in our system of government. This week I find that four elected legislators, who I’m sure are nice guys and good parents and/or grandparents, are able to sit together privately and propose a budget plan without consideration of the opinions of their peers and one that shows no respect for the situation facing the average Arizonan.

I mean aren’t elected folks supposed to consider what is best for all of the people of Arizona when developing proposals such as this?

Or, maybe it’s just me and I’m mistaken about that?

Virtually every Arizonan knows about the deficit and knows we’re all going to have to pull together to get through these tough times. Then on Friday we find that the “solution” will mean ½ day Kindergarten, a reduction from 180 school days to 175, school only 4 days per week, a huge increase in class sizes, reductions in salary for all, and the loss of jobs for 1,000s. It hasn’t said that in the newspapers, but I’ve been told the discussions have included these issues from people who are supposed to know. I guess that’s what happens when you reduce a budget by more than 21%.

The proposal asks for budget cuts this year of $103 million and $892 million next from K-12. Specifically, the plan reduces this year’s soft capital allocation (textbooks, curriculum and assessment tools, etc) by 43% but next year there will be $0 allocated for soft capital. There will be a 10% reduction in basic state aid, elimination of all-day kindergarten, an eight year phase out of career ladder (12% per year reduction), elimination of the math and science initiatives, and an eight year phase out of the teacher experience index. Further, to quote a friend of mine, “Heck, they even reduced the gifted program, just in case there was any child left untouched.”

In my opinion, there is little doubt we have a crisis in leadership. Many years ago I taught the Principalship for NAU from a business book called LEADERS by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. It is a classic, virtually a leadership bible, reprinted many times. They note that effective leaders focus their actions on “doing the right thing” while managers “do things right”. Also, topical to our situation is the premise that “the accumulation of trust is the measure of the legitimacy of leadership”.

So what?

Well, Mr. Kavanaugh, Mr. Pearce, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Burns in one short week have shown they are exceptional managers, able to do things right, especially subtract. There is nothing wrong with the management function; it is a necessary component of organization. But you need leaders who understand the function of “doing the right thing” at the helm. Simply put, managers placed in leadership positions are divisive, while truly effective leaders in similar positions bring people together. If you have any doubts about the value of leadership vs. management, I have one word for you, Whistenhunt!

With all due respect, I’m pretty doggoned sure I’m not wrong about that.

Crisis is often just opportunity disguised in different clothing. As some forest fires can be healthy by getting rid of undergrowth and unhealthy trees, likewise our financial mess in Arizona is an opportunity for effective leadership to chart a new course. People are ready for change, they know it has to happen, but they have to trust the leadership and know that the leaders have their best interest at heart.

In less than a week, our veteran management team of Kavanaugh, Pearce, and Burns (Mr. Adams is pretty new) have managed to lose the trust of most of the Arizonans who have been watching with interest.

Or, maybe it’s just me and I’m wrong about that?

I’ve never met Jan Brewer, but my daughter was an accountant for a mental health agency when Mrs. Brewer sat on that agency’s board. My daughter describes Mrs. Brewer as pragmatic, caring, insightful, politely direct, and an effective leader. Unless some true leaders emerge on the Republican side, the good Governor Brewer may well be average Arizonans only hope.

With a veto, there may be enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to keep our veteran managers and their followers from overriding the veto. Heck, maybe the direction taken to this point is so obviously abhorrent that some Republicans will stand up and utilize some common sense. I hope so, because while raised a Democrat, I’ve been a registered Republican my entire voting life and this is the first time I’ve ever been ashamed to admit it.

Thomas Jefferson, the father of American education, felt that democracy could only succeed with an educated populace. Over the last few days we find that Arizona, now ranked 49th in educational funding, will lose over $1,000 per child under the current proposal.

Is it possible that we could fall to 51st?

I don’t believe Arizona has ever been higher than 46th in the last 30 years. Is it any wonder that few large businesses or industries have relocated to Arizona? Our legislators have never understood that an investment and commitment to education is the necessary third leg to draw industry, relying only on our wonderful climate and our status as a right-to-work state to broaden our employment base.

A true investment in education over the past 30 years would have drawn much more business relocation, broadening our employment base, and would have left us less dependent on construction as our major industry. It seems we still don’t understand that.

Or, perhaps, it’s just me and I’m wrong about that?

So, in the last few days we’ve read in the newspaper that not only must we cut the education budget by 21+% but that business also needs a tax break.

Let’s see if I’ve got this. We have this huge deficit because the economy has faltered and tax dollars necessary to fund government programs have plummeted. So we answer by cutting educational spending and KidsCare health-care program for 63,000 of Arizona’s children, knowing that number will grow dramatically because of the financial dilemma our families are currently facing.

Further, according to ASU, the proposal is “the equivalent to withdrawing funding for more than 40,000 students.” ASU President Michael Crow called the options plan a blueprint for putting Arizona “on the path to resembling a Third World country.”

If this plan were accepted, we would be forced to reduce the salaries of virtually all in the education profession fortunate enough to keep their jobs. We would have to release 1,000s of hard-working middle and lower income blue collar workers, and we would have ½ day Kindergarten and school 4 days a week for grades 1-12 and increase the parents need for child care astronomically. Oh, well, I guess we could just let them stay home by themselves. But, I forgot, there will be plenty of folks available to watch the kids as so many have lost their jobs, just no money to pay them. And since we reduced pay and eliminated jobs, we have even less tax money to collect.

Sounds like a great plan, eh? Or maybe it’s just me and I’m wrong about this, too?

Over the past 15 years, in addition to working in schools, I’ve been a relatively successful businessman. I don’t claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer with regard to business, but neither am I the dullest.
About seven weeks ago after doing some research, I discovered that an increase in the sales tax of .01 would have generated a little over $1 billion to the state last year. This year it would be significantly less, but would still approach $1 billion, covering about 60% of the stated deficit.

While I was not really laughed at (just snickers, maybe) my proposal was quickly dismissed in a few different meetings because I was told the Republican-dominated legislature would never go for it. Now, I see that a similar referendum is picking up steam in California.

Unlike some in the legislature, I do not believe that such a temporary increase (utilized only until the economy is righted) will be the end of the world, the prevailing sentiment at the Capital, I’m told. After all, we should all be in this together and if so, maybe it’s not such a bad thought after all.

Of course, it may be just me and I may be wrong again?

This past Thursday I attended a meeting of about 20 superintendents and business officials. Toward the end of the meeting, one superintendent summed up his frustration by saying, “I just don’t know what to do. Even the legislators that represent us tell us openly that their input is not solicited nor considered.” We were then told that the Republican leadership get so many emails they don’t even try to read them, that phone calls and letters are the only way to make contact, as you really can’t see them personally and even if you did their minds are made up and they don’t really listen to you.

A true gentleman, kind and stately, then spoke and said, “Unfortunately, as long as you superintendents keep stretching and providing for kids, parents don’t feel the pain. What you must do is stop providing services until the parents are fed up. Then, the legislators move because they want to get reelected.”

After a pause, I stated that my District has had full day Kindergarten for 16 or 17 years and that in the past 22 months our voters had passed a K-3 Override, and M & O override, and a capital override. We will provide full day Kindergarten for as long as humanly possible for two reasons; it not only is the right thing to do for kids, our community has stepped up time and again and they deserve it. We just have to find a way to effectively communicate to our public the depth of the problem presented by the legislature.

Communities all over Arizona are just like ours. Regular folks are committed to our children, truly committed, always. Many politicians talk about putting kids first, but that seems to be just election year rhetoric utilized for political gain.

Of course, I may be wrong about that, too, but considering this proposal, I don’t think so.

And, the reverse Boston Tea Party, what do we have to do to get the legislature to consider adding .01 to our sales tax temporarily instead of decimating the state with this soulless proposal?

I’ve never really written anything like this before and while I’m going to distribute it to our staff and parents in Florence, to my fellow superintendents in the Arizona School Administrators group, the Arizona School Board Association, the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, the Arizona Education Association, and to our college and university leaders, maybe nothing will come of it. But I’ll feel somewhat better because I got it off my chest and can feel like I tried.

As many of our legislators don’t seem to care about us regular folks, don’t read our emails, accept few phone calls, respond to few letters, won’t see us personally, or ignore us, as when 120 superintendents showed up last Monday, it seems we need to earn some respect. They must see that they have a responsibility to all Arizonans not just those with big business interests.

It has been said that the true value of a culture can be effectively evaluated by simply measuring the priority it places on its children. Honestly, after reading this plan one can easily come to the conclusion that the only thing that was considered was dollars.

The Cardinals, NFC Champs and on the way to the Super Bowl, (WOW!) have finally succeeded in earning the respect of hundreds of thousands of folks within and outside of Arizona. Amazingly, we regular folks have a much more difficult task just trying to earn the respect of a few that we had a hand in electing. When you think of it, that’s really a pretty sad state of affairs.

On Sunday, January 25th, from 1-3pm, my wife and I are going to have a picnic at the Capital plaza and afterwards will politely leave a request to the legislature to show respect for the children and the average citizens of Arizona. It probably won’t be as much fun as we had watching the Cardinals this past Sunday, but if you’d like to join us there’s no telling what might happen. I completed this on MLK Day and we all know that Martin Luther King led the way in showing the value of peaceful demonstration.

I have never protested publicly, never demonstrated or carried a sign, I always have just trusted. But when Arizona’s children are determined to be less important than some decimal points, I think I have a moral obligation to show up.

It may end up that my wife and I just enjoy a private picnic, but who knows, maybe I’ll be wrong about that, too?

Gary 9
Florence USD #1

P.S. By the way, Mr. Kavanaugh, Mr. Pearce, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Burns, just for future reference, regular folks don’t mind being well led, but they really don’t like being managed or not receiving consideration. But if you care to join us we’d love to have you. Might just be my wife and I, and I’m really pretty easy to get along with, but my wife now, better make sure you don’t get her dander up. Hope to see you Sunday.

P.P.S. I have provided the addresses, email address, and phone numbers of the gentlemen I mentioned above. While it is great if you contact them in that way, your attendance Sunday, however inconvenient it might be, will send a message to the entire legislature. Educators and school staffs are just regular folks, parents and kids are just regular folks; regular folks who deserve to be well led by those they elected. If you believe in participatory democracy rather than the select autocracy that formulated this proposal, please consider attending on Sunday.

By the way if you wear red, we can cover two bases; red shall not only represent the carnage that this proposal will produce, but, obviously, will be a deserving tribute to the Cardinals.

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