Fenger Pointing

Becky Fenger | December 9, 2009

Becky FengerA teachable moment

The Arizona Education Association is squealing like a stuck pig (and having shared living quarters with a number of these critters for the last 30 years, I know that sound).

State lawmakers passed House Bill 2011 dealing with teacher contracts, and the law went into effect last month. Summarily, the AEA filed suit, asking the Arizona Supreme Court to declare the provisions void and unenforceable. The union claims the bill is unconstitutional, since it was passed in a special session dealing with the budget and is therefore unrelated.

The law does several things, mainly in an attempt to weed out lousy teachers. "I think there are a lot of great teachers, but there are also a lot of bad teachers, and districts need to have a mechanism to get rid of the bad," said State Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson. Now, they do. School districts are prohibited from using tenure or seniority as a factor in determining layoffs or rehires. Administrators can lower salaries of individual teachers without lowering pay across the board.

In addition, teachers may not be compensated for conducting union activities on contracted time. The most controversial provision, perhaps, removes the April 15 deadline for notifying teachers of contracts for the upcoming year. This was done to give school districts more leeway in deciding on staffing. Finally, the number of days for a teacher to improve after being placed on "probation" is reduced from 85 teaching days down to 60.

Tenured teachers are concerned they will be fired and replaced with younger, "cheaper" teachers as a budget fix for the district. That's understandable, but I don't think good teachers have anything to fear. Word gets around. Administrators, parents and kids know which teachers are good at their work, and generally treasure them. If salary is tied to achievement, teachers will be treasured in pay as well as reputation. As a nation, we simply cannot allow unions to force us to retain the slugs.

We also cannot afford to spend money we don't have. It was amusing to watch the demonstrations organized by the education lobby that brought teachers and parents down to the Capitol to demand more money. Arizona's citizens have been brainwashed to believe our public schools are desperately under-funded. Ha! The Superintendent of Public Instruction's finance report shows we spent $9,700 per pupil in 2007-2008. That's right. Stop the next 200 people you meet on the street and ask them what we spend per pupil, and not 1 in 10 will guess anywhere near this high an amount.

ray barnesNo wonder State Rep. Ray Barnes from District 7 got fed up with the folks screaming for more money for schools when we are approaching a $4 billion budget shortfall! (The truth is it could be $5 billion before the worst is over in the next 2 years.) Rep. Barnes was raked over the coals for his heated outburst on the floor of the house recently while explaining his vote for $144 million in cuts to public education funding. (See the video at youtube.com/watch?v=1UACkBQAi00). That's a bum rap. I quite enjoyed it. It's about time someone told off the "gimme" guys down there.

I completely understand his frustration. Barnes is a good man. He was made fun of for his attire, his grammar and his satire, which newspapers neglected to note in their snarky reporting. The fancy-pants anointed ones who laughed at him are off base. I care whether my state senators and representatives are honest and mindful of my money and liberty, not whether they are dressed smartly. Beware the smooth talkers. If Barnes is a diamond in the rough, so be it. The state is broke; he gets it. If only the rest of them did.

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