Board members and administrators of Tucson Unified School District have made a valuable discovery: When you ask for ideas on how to save money, people can be very creative.
And there is another lesson: One size definitely does not fit all. What is best for one school is not right for another – and the only way to know that is to ask people closest to the students.
Faced with the likelihood of having to make massive budget cuts, TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen tried something very different. Instead of working with the TUSD board and her top aides to make the cuts, Fagen turned the responsibility over to individual schools.
Site councils – consisting of parents, teachers, principals and staff – were asked to propose ways of dealing with cuts of 10 percent and 18 percent. Because the Legislature is dawdling on adopting a state budget, it is not yet known how deep the education cuts will be.
There is no easy way to deal with the “smaller” cuts of “only” 10 percent. But the site councils came up with a range of ideas that show those working closest to the schools have a deep understanding of what can be eliminated if worst comes to worst.
Two schools that now share a principal with two other schools, decided they didn’t need a principal at all. The site councils at Holladay Intermediate Magnet and Richey Elementary schools decided the best way for them to cut costs was to let lower-paid assistant principals be in charge.
Other schools had other priorities. Alice Vail Middle School opted to make deep cuts to its supply budget. Counselors, librarians and monitors were endangered at all schools – yet some schools felt it was important to keep them and others did not.
Many high schools said they would do away with campus monitors and funding for fine arts.
Some cuts are troubling, such as the possible elimination of arts classes. But as long as site councils are representative of all parents and the cuts don’t eliminate programs required by the state, individual schools should be given as much latitude as possible to best meet the needs of their students.
This marks the first time that site councils have been able to make budget decisions for their own schools. And even though most of the decisions will be grim, those choices are better made by the people in the trenches, not by administrators at 1010 E. 10th St.
We hope legislators will come to their collective senses and find ways to mitigate the cuts to schools. Education must be in the top echelon of state spending responsibilities – and that can happen if lawmakers are willing to get as creative as the site councils did.
Fagen took a risk in turning such critical budget decisions over to site councils. But her confidence in those parents and teachers has been rewarded with laudable creativity.