Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Cutting social work school shortsighted

Citizen Staff Writer

The state’s budget crisis is forcing its universities to make tough decisions as each cuts tens of millions of dollars in spending.

One will cripple southern Arizona’s ability to provide social services.

The coordinator and supporters of the Arizona State University School of Social Work Tucson component say ASU will do great damage to our community by closing the satellite program. The plan to shut it down by December was announced by ASU President Michael Crow this week as one of many cuts needed to meet an $88 million budget reduction imposed by the Legislature.

The savings will be minimal and the impact huge, said Ann Nichols, coordinator of the Tucson component.

The local program began more than 30 years ago and is the pipeline for agencies needing professional social workers in southern Arizona.

“We have more demand than we have openings every year,” Nichols said. “We are the only social work program in the community. U of A does not offer any social work courses, bachelor’s or master’s level. When we disappear, that’s it for the preparation of Child Protective Service workers, for any kind of social work education.”

ASU first offered social work courses in Tucson in 1972. It opened a full-fledged program in 1978.

The satellite has graduated 76 to 78 students in each of the past three years and 1,025 since 1978.

The program’s 191 current students (53 undergraduates and 138 graduate students) take classes at 340 N. Commerce Loop and complete their field work at agencies all around southern Arizona.

The ASU School of Social Work will help current students finish their degrees. But, from here out, southern Arizonans with an interest in social work will have to earn their degrees in Phoenix or perhaps seek a master’s in counseling at the private and pricey University of Phoenix.

W. Mark Clark, president and CEO of CODAC Behavioral Health Services in Tucson, said most people seeking social work degrees are nontraditional students with families and obligations. Moving or commuting to Phoenix isn’t an option.

“It’s pretty ironic that at a time like this, when there’s even more need for the kind of work that social workers do, that we are talking about eliminating the only social work graduate training program outside out of Maricopa County,” he said.

Both Clark and Nichols questioned how much ASU will actually save by eliminating the Tucson program. The component’s four tenured faculty members would be placed in Phoenix, Nichols said. The only savings are the salaries of four staff members, rent and incidentals.

In turn, ASU loses grant money the program receives and tuition from Tucson students.

The component’s students, graduates and local social workers have been calling the media, legislators and the members of the Board of Regents since the cuts were announced Tuesday. The protests may be in vain.

The action doesn’t require Board of Regents’ approval because it’s an elimination of an off-site branch of an academic program, not an entire program.

ASU spokeswoman Terri Schafer said ASU doesn’t want to make any of the cuts. She said ASU administrators “tried to minimize harm to students, tried to minimize effects on our core mission and core programs.”

But neither Schafer nor a second spokesman she referred me to Thursday could say how much ASU saves by shutting the Tucson campus.

I’ve been asked by readers, when I’ve criticized other budget cuts as unwise, “Well, what would you cut?” I asked the same of the Tucson campus supporters.

Clark, while acknowledging the enormity of the deficit, said, “The reality is that this state’s tax system is structured to make it impossible to fund an adequate level of state services.”

The state is overly dependent on the sales tax, he said. A modest increase in gas taxes, a tax on services or, as a last resort, a small increase in the sales tax would go a long way toward protecting necessary state services.

He also said it’s time to dust off the 2004 report of the Citizens Finance Review Commission, a board created by former Gov. Janet Napolitano to study Arizona’s tax system. The commission’s recommendations for major changes to the tax structure were largely ignored.

Nichols, noting that ASU’s hand was forced, said the Legislature should look elsewhere for cuts, perhaps the prison system. Nonviolent offenders could be released to community supervision and GPS monitoring, she said.

She said that even as legislators are cutting hundreds of millions from education, they are seeking to make permanent what was supposed to be a three-year suspension of the state equalization tax, a property tax that could generate $250 million.

Nichols believes Arizonans would pay a little more in taxes for the public good.

“Ordinary citizens have begun to understand that when we cut taxes, we cut services,” she said.

Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and adenogean@tucsoncitizen.com. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.


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