After the storm clouds of Proposition 123 passed and TUSD teachers awoke to find that they were sold a bill of goods, another scandal waits in the wings. The original education sales tax (Proposition 301) was passed 16 years ago to benefit teachers. However, TUSD hasn’t distributed all of that money to teachers in years! In fact, a careful and expert search of public records show that TUSD has close to $20 million dollars of 301 money that has been carried over incrementally, since 2012. This unexplained hoarding must stop: TUSD must stop leaving our teachers behind.
Proposition 301 monies can be carried over-in 2012, the Pedicone administration had stockpiled some 1-2 million dollars. The following year, this amount jumped to roughly 6 million. Each year more carried over, each year more accumulated. This is not discretionary money for the District. This money, distributed annually, is earmarked to raise teacher salaries, lower class sizes and pay performance bonuses. All of these things are desperately needed in TUSD.
By 2016, unbeknownst to teachers or voters, the District has accumulated almost $20 million dollars, $14,382,121 million of which is from the part of 301 monies designated for teacher performance pay. This is two years’ worth of unspent performance pay! A much lesser amount, some $2.5 million is available for increased teacher salaries. Another $2.5 million can go for “menu items” which include teacher compensation. That’s $5 million dollars that could be released now to help teachers. Nonetheless, Proposition 123 was pitched as the only way to improve teacher salaries. Once narrowly passed, the District then used only 26% of the funds for that purpose.
We were all outraged that Proposition 301’s annual increase for inflation went unpaid by the State in 2008. The ensuing lawsuit to get that money back ended with Proposition 123, where we were offered the chance to rob from our own educational future in order to pay our teachers today. This proposition was sold complete with sob stories about the Districts’ inability to pay teachers because of State cuts.
The State education cuts were outrageous. It is equally outrageous that Prop 301 monies were inexplicably withheld by the District! Why has the District stockpiled that money and, much like the State itself, ignored the will of the voters? Administration claims of “fiscal conservation” ring hollow when you know that the compensation package of the Administrator who made that claim is almost a cool half million per year after 3 years of experience.
Arizona voters decided in 2000 to tax ourselves so that our teachers would be better paid. Both the State and now the District have found ways to block that from happening. As a taxpayer, a parent and a Governing Board candidate, I call upon TUSD to do the right thing. The District must immediately pay out as much of the Proposition 301 money as possible: roughly $5 million dollars. Teacher pay must be brought up to parity with other similar districts in the State. Unrestricted Proposition 123 money should be used to bring staff and certified workers up to parity (instead of 1% raises). Voters repeatedly prioritize treating teachers well and adding funding to our public schools. The State does not. Et tu, TUSD?