by David Safier
Folks in the Catalina Foothills School District are rallying to save teachers they might lose because of budget cuts. That's good.
They want to do it by raising $1.3 million in private donations. That's understandable, but it's a huge step backward.
This is the "rich schools get fewer cuts" option. The district's foundation is asking community members to donate $500 each. Tell me how well this pitch would go over in less affluent areas:
This isn't a call for people to give refundable tax credit money. That can only go for extra curricular activities. It's for people with money to reach into their discretionary income and buy back the teachers they're liable to lose. The pitch is: What's $500 to people like us? It's nothing. It's coffee money.
In the bad old days, school districts got a large part of their funding from local property taxes. If the district's voters passed the property tax levy, the district was flush. If it didn't, the district was in big trouble. School dollars are passed out more equitably now, because the state has a formula to balance the payments. Our schools may be 49th in per school funding, but at least all districts share the pain more-or-less equally.
Local school foundations and public school tax credits let wealthy districts boost their revenues somewhat, meaning that, while all districts are equally funded, some districts are more equal than others. But this kind of blatant call for a rich district to staunch the bleeding in its own schools is a serious problem.
To add to the potential harm, who should show up at the rally but Rep. Vic Williams, who calls the fundraising part of a "collaborative effort." No, Vic, it's not collaborative for rich districts to have more funding and a better teacher/student ratio than poor districts. It's elitist and discriminatory.
Note: To be honest, if I had kids in Foothills schools, I'd probably be trying to raise money too. I'm not damning the parents for trying to give their kids the best possible education. A few of the same people who are pushing for donations are among the loudest and strongest voices against state budget cuts. The point is, all schools should get sufficient funding, guaranteed by the state. Wealthier districts are always going to find ways to supplement that, but good education is a government responsibility, not something rich districts buy through "charitable" contributions for their own children.