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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : local April 29, 2016

3/6/2014 2:35:00 PM
Residents air education concerns to Huppenthal
Educators and residents packed the Mingus Union High School cafeteria Tuesday night for a town hall meeting with  Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. VVN/Yvonne Gonzalez
Educators and residents packed the Mingus Union High School cafeteria Tuesday night for a town hall meeting with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. VVN/Yvonne Gonzalez

Yvonne Gonzalez
Staff Reporter

COTTONWOOD -- Two town hall events this week gave residents the chance to voice their education concerns in front of Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. 

One audience member in a nearly packed Mingus Union High School cafeteria Tuesday night asked about Senate Bill 1310, an initiative that failed in the Senate Wednesday but would have effectively allowed Arizona to opt out of the new national Common Core standards. 

Common Core and its online assessment, possibly PARCC, will be replacing AIMS next year. Seniors won't have to pass the new test to graduate, allowing students to adjust to the harder test.

Huppenthal said points of controversy surrounding the new standards have been researched, and don't "hold water."

"This test has the potential to revolutionize education through its greater accuracy, but it's going to be stressful making the transition," he said. 

Huppenthal spent part of his introductory comments addressing concerns raised at the first "tumultuous" event at Prescott High School the night before. 

Attendees at that event, and again during the Mingus meeting, asked about his perceived connection to charter schools and support of state funds that go toward Empowerment Scholarships for kids of parents who decide, for whatever reason, to opt out of public schools.

"I have no financial interest whatsoever in any charter school," he said. 

The program has 682 students, many of whom have multiple disabilities requiring specialized education. Arizona's student count is at about 1.1 million, making district schools the backbone.

"The district system is the system that has to meet the community demands," he said. 

Some audience members said they didn't feel their needs were being met, especially considering the many programs schools have to offer and how thin resources are stretched.

Huppenthal said part of that is a political culture of frugality, which he saw while serving in the legislature. 

This isn't the year, but Huppenthal said his staff is working to make sure the structure is in place to get a voter-supported tax for education passed next time around.

Huppenthal said the state has made a lot of progress on the data reporting system schools use.

"It really was a cancer upon the school system, and we've made a lot of progress there," he said. 

But the state needs more to support technology that gives districts access to information faster. 

Mingus Union High School finance director Kirk Waddle and superintendent Paul Tighe spent about an hour explaining to school board members at their last meeting that while state reporting has improved, the school will see an unexpected $129,000 dip in revenue for the year.

Districts have found all the slack they can in their budgets, Huppenthal said. 

"They're out of budget tricks," he said. 

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in September of last year that the state of Arizona could not divert voter-approved education funding, and had to at least adjust for inflation. This is going to put about $80 million more into education for the coming year. 

"We need to make sure that we don't get more money diverted out of the general fund," he said. 

Gov. Jan Brewer's funding initiative could bring in another $30 to $40 to the budget. 

"We need more than that," Huppenthal said. 

Voters decided 2 to 1 in 2012 against extending a 1-cent sales tax to fund education, Proposition 204. He and his office are working to make sure the structure is in place to pass a similar request next time around. 

"There were big flaws in 204," he said. "The work that's done has to be perfect when you're asking the voters for that much money."

Mingus art teacher Tyler Novak said programs like band, orchestra and career and technical education are downsized when schools have to cut back. Without accountability standards in place, it's difficult to retain funding based on merit. 

"As budgets become tighter, schools are making tougher decisions and schools are suffering because programs don't fit in the model for testing," he said. "Does the state have any plans to hold the same kind of accountability and standards so these other areas of schools don't get cut when budgets get tight?"

Huppenthal said this isn't being pursued at the state level, but that districts like Glendale Union High School District in Phoenix are doing that now. Student progress is measured in all areas, rather than just reading and math.

"They measure across the board because they don't want to see that imbalance," he said. 

Educators, parents, students, business owners and school board members from about a handful of school districts attended the event. When an audience member asked about his teaching experience, he said he had none but studies and receives input from experts. 

"We believe in having a lot of really smart people in the room to make policy," he said. 

Follow the reporter on Twitter @ymgonzal and Instagram @VerdeValleyNews

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, November 9, 2014
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

Balderdash, Cassandra of Yavapai. One most certainly can blame the "Ghosts" and the "Quails" and Coconino, et al.

Dr. Garcia received more help from thoughtful Republicans than he did from party-line Democrats. The AFT crowd is responsible for pushing him off message and convincing him he had to stay in left-field instead of developing reasonable alternatives to Diane Douglas's mix of fiscal fact and fanatic fiction. For good reason. The last thing DNC strategists wanted was a Garcia victory that couldn't be ascribed to Fred DuVal's coattails. Think about it. Superintendent Douglas will do them much more good than Superintendent Garcia would have--at the expense of public education, but that's never been a priority for the DNC.

What to do? Jump on Doug Ducey's case right now. Don't dis Mrs. Douglas. Just push how much more Dr. Garcia knows about education and how valuable he's been to previous administrations. A strong grassroots response might put him on the SBE. Ducey's no fool. That would be a great public relations coup for his administration, and I'm not sure Diane Douglas would object.

Posted: Sunday, November 9, 2014
Article comment by: 2014 general election SPI update

Relative to "It's not over yet thousands of ballots still not counted" article 11/6/2014

With the proliferation of mail-in ballots, that's par for the course.

As of Nov 8, 4:00 pm, David Garcia continues to pick up votes, but he's still 18,709 votes behind.

The only real cliff-hanger is U.S. Rep. District 2: McSally currently leads Barber by 509 votes, less than the 958 write-ins. It's a 2012 redux. Why didn't McSally analyze her last campaign before embarking on this one? Why didn't Barber pickup more voter support in McSally's precincts during his two years in the House? But that's a different problem.

Don your thinking caps, people. How do concerned parents, over-burdened taxpayers, and put-upon teachers keep the Black Douglas from wrecking havoc in our already stressed K-12 districts?

Cassandra of Yavapai County

Posted: Friday, November 7, 2014
Article comment by: @ MH

Sure looks like it. As of Nov. 7, 3:00 pm, David Garcia was closing in a bit, but still 20,205 votes behind.

Can't blame Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Verde Village, Cornville, Sedona or all of Coconino, Navajo, Apache, and Pima Counties. The rest of the state was just too dead set against national testing of a national curriculum. Diane Douglas played that very well. It won the Republican nomination, and it won the election.

David Garcia should have switched gears after the primary and countered the Sharon-Thomas-instilled idea he's for national tests & measurements. But he didn't, and most voters don't understand how much of a mess Superintendents can make of K-12 financing and policy. They just blame it all on the legislature. David Garcia needed to listen to more people outside the education community.

Cassandra of Yavapai County

Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Article comment by: And so it goes.

RE: VI news article "Arizona spends $19 million for new standardized tests" 11/3/14

I guess Superintendent of Public Instruction won't be over until the last smudge on the last dubious ballot has been examined ten times. But it looks like Arizona's public instruction will be flying blind for the next 4 years. That's a lot of money to test proficiency in standards that haven't been delineated enough to be applied in districts throughout Arizona and that, for reasons she has yet to fully explain, don't meet the apparent Superintendent's standards.

If you think it's not as bad as it seems, you're right. It's worse. One of the things Diane Douglas kept informing her supporters, and Doug Ducey, Fred DuVal, and David Garcia kept neglecting to mention:

" The [State] Board [of Education] is composed of the following eleven members: the superintendent of public instruction, the president of a state university or state college, four lay members, a president or chancellor of a community college district, a person who is an owner or administrator of a charter school, a superintendent of a high school district, a classroom teacher and a county school superintendent. Each member, other than the superintendent of public instruction, IS APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR WITH THE CONSENT OF THE SENATE. Members are appointed to a term of four years." (emphasis mine)

All concerned should read the Arizona Revised Statutes title 15-203 Powers and duties. A new governor and new SPI could make quite a difference in the execution of those powers and duties. The SPI is not just another board member.


Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2014
Article comment by: It seems to me:

The Legislature would be less inclined to micromanage if the SBE and ADE gave any indication they really know...

1. Precisely what in Arizona's current curriculum Common Core State Standards will improve.

I've read claims that CC standards are lower in some areas, the same in others, and that a lot of money is being spent just shuffling various elements around. I have not found any point-by-point comparison of what the new standards change.

2. What problems other states have experienced after fully implementing CCSS.

I've found massive budget overrides, difficulties with new textbooks, and dissatisfaction with compulsory new teaching methods. I can only hope our educators are aware of these.

3. What improvements have been documented in states that completed their transition 4 or more years ago.

The only ones I've found relate to increased teacher training and simply introducing more difficult materials sooner.

4. What fully implemented CCSS and P-whatsits tests could do to the one area in which Arizona does lead the nation: School Choice.

We have more options than most other states, and way fewer instances of those options being abused. John Huppenthal keeps insisting Arizona's Common Core transition won't affect district, charter, private, or parochial curriculum or programs. But he has yet to articulate how anyone can devise national assessments that don't dictate a national curriculum.

5. What benefit Arizona will derive from comparing performance in other states to ours.

We can already do this to a large extent. So can employers. So far, I haven't found benefits that would off-set the extreme costs.

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