State law requires the county superintendent’s office to not allow any of the other districts to over extend their budgets.
Unlike many governing bodies that develop a budget every once a year, balancing a school district’s budget is an ongoing affair, requiring the Pinal County Superintendent’s Office to report to the county treasurer each month regarding the budget of each school district as well as the county superintendent’s office, according to Mrs. Roberts, who is county superintendent and the incumbent candidate for the Democratic party.
The office also manages a few schools in Pinal County including those for students on probation or in justice programs.
For Mrs. Roberts, the job of county superintendent requires plenty of experience and hard work, she said.
“I’m a working superintendent. I’m not a figurehead,” she said in a Sept. 11 phone interview. “Being the county superintendent isn’t about making policy, it’s about doing the job of running the schools.”
Mrs. Roberts thinks that superintendent is the kind of job that requires a certain type of person with particular skills, which she said.
“ You need more than a desire to do the job. You need the background and the experience to do what needs to be done,” she said. “ You need to be totally involved with the school’s budget and know what it takes to manage, prepare, and adjust them. In this time when we are constantly facing cuts to the schools budgets, the ability to manage them becomes critical.”
Mrs. Roberts was a school administrator and district superintendent before become the county superintendent, and it’s thanks to this administrative background that she knows how to balance a school’s budget and how a district needs to work with the law, she said.
Not only does the county superintendent’s office work with the school districts, it also manages a few schools in Pinal County including those for students on probation or in justice programs.
Working with the county’s reeducation programs is one of Mrs. Roberts’ better accomplishments as superintendent, she said.
The county superintendent is required to provide training services for staff members in all of the schools in the county, programs that have been strapped for cash in recent years.
“ We have this whole department committed to providing these services for all the districts, but the state doesn’t provide us with the required funding, but I’m still required to provide it. Now, that department is exclusively supported by grants that I’ve gone out and found. It’s completely softmoney supported,” Mrs. Roberts said. “A huge part of what this office does is continuing to provide services to these individuals after our budget has been cut. It’s critical to collaborate and coordinated with all these other institutions in order to get the job done.”
She’s brought in about $10 million in grants during her time as county superintendent, she said. One of the ways that Mrs. Broussard plans to improve the education system is to encourage more community involvement.
These would be programs targeted at the parents and other community members who want to make a difference in schools or in the lives or the students attending them.
“ We need to spend time showing our students that our education system is important to use. If we do, then they will see the importance in trying. I’ve ran into so many retired individuals who would love to spend their time, but they don’t know how go about that, so having this program will make it easier for them to get involved.”
This wouldn’t be a parent teacher organization which traditionally fills this role, Mrs. Broussard said. These volunteers would be spending their time with the students in their classrooms and schools.
“ That could be someone’s grandpa or grandma coming into the classroom to read to the students once a week or working with small groups, practicing spelling or addition,” she said.
One strength of the program would be to give everyone involved in a student’s life an idea of the kind of progress he or she is making, she said.
Mrs. Broussard was exposed to a similar system at Edu-prize Charter School, which she worked at for about four years, used a similar system where parents were required to volunteer at least 40 hours a year.
“It was great how that got the parents into the classroom. They were able to see what their students were working on, and the students got to feel super excited and important that their parents were in there for the day,” she said. “It keeps us all in the loop.”
One area both candidates care about is providing desperately needed services for students on probation or in justice programs.
“Sometimes we’ll have a student that may not be able to be the school system, but we’re required to still provide an education for them.” Mrs. Roberts said.
The office also partners with the county sheriff ’s office to provide education for long term inmates in correctional institutions.
“Hopefully, if we can get them some education, we can get them on a positive path and keep them out of the jail system,” Mrs. Roberts said.
Mrs. Broussard is also interested in helping students in difficult situations.
“One of the things I want to do is decrease the dropout rate in Pinal. I’d like to make sure that each kid has a strong foundation in reading and comprehending,” she said. “I don’t know what (Mrs. Roberts) is doing to help decrease our dropout rates. I think what we need to target is the younger students and prevent it, but we still can’t forget about our high-school aged students that are at risk of dropping out.”
To do this, she’d like to supply each school in Pinal County a reading specialist to help with these students.
“ These specialists receive special training in how to teach these skills. This should help them be more prepared and get that confidence when it comes to reading and comprehending in any subject.
In addition, she would like to create a technical and vocational high school to teach trade and technical skills to students. It would work much like a publicly ran East Valley Institute of Technology, she said.
Over the past years, the districts in Pinal County have had to drop many of the vocational classes like woodworking or auto shop, and Mrs. Broussard wants this facility to replace that loss.
“ This school isn’t just for those students who are excelling and want to learn extra skills. It’s also for those kids that are at risk of dropping out or aren’t engaged in the classroom. Many times, a student drops out because they are bored, not because they aren’t intelligent,” she said. “ These students can begin learning these technical skills in their junior year of high school, so when they graduate, they get a certificate from this vocational school as well as one from their high school.”
Not only will having such a institution help the students in Pinal County, it will help the businesses as well, Mrs. Broussard said.
“ We have a lot of companies that are filled with employees at, or approaching, retirement age, and they don’t have the next generation of trained technical workers ready to take their places,” she said.
Some of the money that the county is using to balance the budget of most of the districts is coming from a $25 million federal grant, which the county superintendent must help distribute, Mrs. Roberts said.
“It seems like a lot of money, but when you must distribute it over every school in the state, it doesn’t go very far. It’s not very much money.”
In order to find the best way to give out these funds, the county superintendent has formed a consortium with most of the districts. These districts are pooling their funds and letting the county superintendent office choose where it can do the most good.
“My office is the fiscal agent that is working with these districts to help them implement the need changes required, so we can meet the costs,” she said. “ They are able to do that because of this office and because they trust me. They know that I have the background and the skills required to do the job of superintendent.”
Mrs. Roberts believes that if she wasn’t county superintendent, these programs would suffer.
Mrs. Broussard is also very concerned about balancing the budget.
“I just want to make sure the department stays within budget and not need to ask for 10 percent overrides. The community is strained enough as it is and we don’t need to be adding to that,” she said.
She feels the best way to keep the budget is to correctly manage costs and personnel. Also, removing and reordering the school districts would be a good way to cut down on redundancy.
“ We need to cut down on some of the redundancy in some of these positions. We have 217 districts in Arizona and if we can decrease this number and combine some of them, we would have more buying power when it comes to buying things for our schools. It’s making the dollar we have in education work for us. You can’t just throw money at a problem and make it go away. We need to move away from this tax and spend mentality,” she said. “ We don’t need to have three superintendents in the same town doing the same job. We have nearly as many administrators as we do teachers.”
The county superintendent’s office doesn’t have the authority to greatly restructure the education to district system, but they can pressure and work with the other branches of government that affect education, she said.
“I wouldn’t have the power to stop this as superintendent, but I can get behind those who’d like to. We need to make sure that people are doing their job without doing the same job as someone else,” Mrs. Broussard She also would make sure the system is getting its money’s worth out of its personnel, For example, Mrs. Broussard said assistant administrators in the county superintendent’s office make as much as $87,000, double a standard teacher’s salary. She feels this money would be better spent on the teachers themselves.
“ We need to get some of this support out to our teachers. They’re on the front lines, overworked and underpaid. Some haven’t had a raise in three or four years. That makes it easy for Maricopa County to come in and entice our teachers with higher salaries after we’ve spent the time and money to pay for their professional development.”
Mrs. Broussard thinks that her method of balancing the district’s budgets is superior to Mrs. Roberts’.
“ The biggest difference between me and Orlenda is that I’m fiscally conservative,” she said. “I feel that the support should go to the kids and their classrooms and not into the administration, and I’m not going to ask for a 10 percent override. That’s just spending our rainy day fund, which has already been spent.”
Mrs. Broussard feels this tax and spending mentality has led to Pinal County being one of the highest property-taxed counties in the state.
“ We are one of the poorest counties, but we also have the second highest taxes in the state. It doesn’t work out,” she said.
By Alexander Foote