GPS Override – Some Facts to Consider

Mr. Blake Sacha ran for Gilbert School Board in 2010 and was defeated by current board member Staci Burk and former board member Shane Stapley who resigned his position after moving out of the district in March of 2012.  Mr. Sacha was appointed to fill the vacancy by County Superintendent, Mr. Don Covey based on recommendations of the selection committee.  Selection committee members were: School Board President EJ Anderson, GPS Superintendent Dr. Dave Allison, and Gilbert Teacher’s Union President Diane Drazinski.  Mr. Sacha is now seeking election to a 4 year term along with his fellow incumbents Mrs. EJ Anderson, and Mrs. Lily Tram and challengers Mrs. Julie Smith, and Mr. Daryl Colvin.

In an article authored by Mr. Sacha on his campaign website, Mr. Sacha appeals to the public to consider supporting the override.  To see the whole article by Mr. Sacha, click: Some fact to consider regarding the GPS override.  We will pull from the article a few highlights and offer a balanced approach to the public for consideration.  Let us begin:

  1. It is a matter of fact that the Override if passed will amount to more than $66 MILLION dollars over the next 5 years.  In his blog Mr. Sacha suggests asking folks who oppose the override if they have this much money to offer up in cuts. 
    • We suggest several options that apparently the current school board has never considered. Let’s break this down into several compartments. But first let’s understand that whatever cuts are made in year ONE will roll up each year for a cumulative savings by year FIVE.  I.E. Cutting $1M in excess up front will yield a total savings of $5 Million in year 5.  Most folks get that picture… some current board members apparently do not.
      1. District Administration – GPS has a Public Relations department.  This department is involved in “advertizing” to the general public and particularly to those outside the district in order to increase enrollment numbers and thereby increase funding.  We would have thought that a school’s achievement alone would suffice without the need of additional PR and advertisement.  The PR department is roughly half a million in salaries alone. 
      2. Excessive spending and non-educational programs.  By example over $150,000 was spent this past year along in both lobbying interests and a “strategic plan” that should be part of the job description for administration as well as board members.  You mean we pay the Superintendent $173,000 per year and we still end up going outside the district for competency in strategery?  What’s wrong with this picture.  A close look at these kind of expenses will reveal a great deal more opportunity for savings.  How much?  Well that’s hard to say as it appears we only see the tip of the iceberg, but you can see by these few examples that large savings are quite promising.
      3. Trimming the Fat – The holy grail of education and cutting costs is that of teachers.  Everyone will agree that we need teachers who teach.  But what of those that do not teach?  What about those that spend very few hours in the classroom and the remainder of their time outside the classroom.  How many department heads are needed?  Based on a total enrollment of 38,500 students and an average classroom size of 27 the number of teachers need to put one in every classroom is 1,425.  GPS currently has roughly 2,500 certified staff on the books.  Of course, certified staff includes principles, assistant principles, deans, and so forth.  But there’s only 39 campuses.  Let’s say that across 5 high schools, 6 Junior High Schools, and 28 Elementary schools an additional staffing overhead of 500 “certified administrators” are needed.  That’s a total of 12 certified employees for EACH campus.  That still leaves a difference of over 500 certified employees as extra.   At an average salary of $43,000/year, plus benefits, plus retirement, that’s an expense of $21,000,000 in salary alone.  But wait, most of those employees are probably working only part time and may not be drawing full benefits.  Okay, let’s just take HALF at $10,000,000.  Hmm… over 5 years… that’s $50Million I’m pretty sure we can find other ways to cut costs.
      4. All-Day Kindergarten is currently subsidized by the rest of GeneralEducation as only half-day is currently funded by the state.  This is an additional expense of $2.5Million.  If GPS simply changed this one policy alone, it would amount to a savings of $12.5 Million over 5 years.
  2. Mr. Sacha tries to justify the 40% increase in property tax rates by suggesting a decline year over year for the past 10. 
    • Folks know what they’ve been paying in property taxes.  Most have not see a decrease in the total amount paid year over year for the past 10 years.  Whether your talking about an increase/decrease in rates, or an increase/decrease in the overall basis to which the rate is applied, the fact of the matter is, the overall amount of monies paid in property taxes has not dropped year over year for the past 10 years.  Sorry Blake.
    • The current board has increased the rate a whopping 40% in a single year is attrocious.  Incumbents should be held accountable for passing along the lack of financial responsibility to the general public.
  3. District funds at the end of the year is a debated topic.  Unfortunately, folks debate this as if the decision were an all or nothing situation.  People forget that an election year comes every other year.  Opponents to the override are simply saying, NOT NOW as the money is there now and therefore not needed this year.  Generally, those in favor of the override have something to gain personally or have not looked at the numbers.  Here they are:
            • Cash on Hand (Total)                Cash on Hand (Minus restricted funds)
        • 2007                                    $52M                                                  $24M
        • 2008                                    $67M                                                  $30M
        • 2009                                    $28M                                                  $0M
        • 2010                                    $44M                                                  $13M
        • 2011                                    $57M                                                  $13M
        • 2012                                    $53M                                                  $11M
    • 2009 was a down year, you don’t need to tell most of the public that as they already know as well, it’s been felt for the past few years.  What’s interesting from the table above is that 2010 offered a significant recovery in both restricted and non-restricted Cash on Hand.
    • As Mr. Sacha points out on his blog site: “Restricted funds include items such as debt service to repay bonds, student activity fees, extracurricular fees and classroom site funds.  These and many other categories are not available to fund the maintenance and operations of the district.”  One is still left wondering based on this information of revenue sources, how the heck did the district recover a total of $16 Million cash on hand of which $13 Million was non-restricted in a single year (2009 to 2010).  If these kinds of swings are possible, why can’t the district manage money better?  The override has existed since 2007, and the district was able to make up a shortfall of $16M from 2009 to 2010.
  4. Return on investment – Mr. Sacha touts the achievements of GPS for which they are deserving.  But he seems to draw a connection between the achievements of the district in terms of academic excellence to support for the override.  Indeed, a great deal of credit should be given directly to the excellent teachers within the district for without them, our children wouldn’t have been able to excel the way they have.
    • Monies to GPS have decreased over the last few years and yet GPS as a whole has managed to improve their performance grade from that of a B to that of an A in the same period.  Indeed we can see that there is no direct connection or proportion between funds and academic performance. 
    • Moreover, Mr. Sacha fails to recognize the Gilbert community for the reasons why Gilbert has been able to achieve top marks.  In addition to the excellent teachers is the overall support from the families within the district.  Education is important to Gilbert families and more time and attention is given to students off campus than perhaps is availble to students in other districts.
  5. Mr. Sacha cites a decrease in overall electrical consumption of 21% by the district.  His inclusion of this fact would again purport that somehow this has something to do with the override and yet it does not.  He explains, “Money spent in energy conservation is having a positive return on investment”.  What’s missing is the AMOUNT of money the district has spent on energy conservation.
    • In 2010, the school board approved a $6.8 Million decision to improve electricity savings.  This plan used ARRA (stimulus) monies to garner a savings of nearly $300,000/year.  However, no plan is in place to oversee or audit the situation as the metrics for ensuring these savings are non-existent and board members have no plans to correct the situation.
    • Without calculating the time value of money, a pay-back of the $6.8Million @ $300,000/year (principle ONLY) is a 22 year plan.  In other words, it will take at least 22 years before the tax payers see a net gain from this decision.

Perhaps an override is needed.  But what we can clearly see is that we don’t need one now, and we may not need one in the future to the magnitude that this one is offered.  The questions:  If not now, when?  Answer, in 2014 during that election year.  Why?  Because based on the current figures, GPS has plenty of funds to get them through the next 2 years.  In the meantime, perhaps we can elect a school board that will bring greater fiscal responsibility.

Being a school board member is not all fun and games.  It’s not for those who are unable to make some difficult budgetary decisions.  Our current board appears unwilling to make the difficult decisions and pass the burden along to the public.  $66 Million over 5 years.  That’s a significant burden for the citizens living in the Gilbert school district to bear.  Many of these people are living on fixed incomes and could stand to receive some relief in taxation come their way.

In short, voting NO on the override is a fiscally sound decision which will not impact the quality of education in the meantime.

2 comments to GPS Override – Some Facts to Consider

  • justinpl

    First of all, there are so many false statements in this article, it's impossible to count. But I'd like to focus on 1.3 Trimming the Fat. First of all, the math is completely wrong and assumes are perfect world, which it is not, it is impossible to say that every class will have exactly 27 all the time, in the High School, 1/7 of your teachers are on prep, so you can add that to your number. Programs exist that are not filled to capacity, do you cut them if they don't have 27 students? Are you counting Special Ed and Resource programs where teachers have classes of fewer than 10, do they now need 27? What about in the elementary schools, those librarians, music teachers, PE teachers, technology specialists, ALP teachers and so forth are all certified teachers, do you cut them? What about in the district offices, they have certified staff, or technology services, are you suggesting that our district can survive without any certified district administration? And if you answered yes to all of these, or even continue to support 1.3, please change your Vote No on the Override Signs from "Keep Teachers" to "Cut The Unnecessary Teachers".

    • ro dainski

      i really think questions are appropriate and need some real investigation. It would be a shame in abasicaaly Mormon community, to have the "rot" come out against Kids. However, it has happened before and maybe happening again.
      I wish it would not happen–the board, I understand and the state will be able to get them, but the contractors , they are just sick–I will punish them- and i am ready!

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