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Superintendent Douglas says Arizona must find new ways to fund education

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LISTEN: Diane Douglas, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction

PHOENIX — Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said Tuesday that Arizona needs to think outside the box when it comes to getting money into state schools.

“What’s become clear to me is we need to look at new ways to generate revenue for education here in Arizona,” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes.

Douglas has said she would support an extension of Proposition 301, a measure that added a six-tenths of a cent sales tax to fund education. However, she would like to raise it to a full penny.

“We have two huge issues in this state: school safety and teacher salaries,” she said.

Douglas was aware that voters approved tax increases for schools before. However, in times past, some of the money meant to go into classrooms was instead spent elsewhere.

“We heard it was for the teachers, for the teachers’ salaries,” Douglas said of Prop. 301, which passed in 2000. “It wasn’t until I got on the school board that I found that there were all these buckets that got filled first.”

But Douglas said people should not criticize schools that use taxpayer dollars on things such as administration until they look deeper.

“We always blame it on administrators,” she said. “We have to realize that there’s a lot of money that needs to be spent in school administration. That’s what our counselors are. That’s what aids to our classroom are.

“It’s not all high-paid people at the top of the ladder.”

Douglas said there is about one counselor in Arizona for every 850 students. In other states, that ratio is as low as 250-to-1.

She added that counselors and aides could eventually become part of a solution to keep schools safer.

“I think it’s the facilities, it’s school protection through [school resource officers] or appropriately trained people and then those … mental health professionals,” she said.

Some have floated the idea that consolidating some of the state’s 666 school districts would help save some money. Douglas said she would support it, but only on a local level.

“I’m fine with districts that want to consolidate because their citizens want to,” she said. “I become leery of forced consolidation.”

The superintendent said parents may be able to raise money for local schools and dictate where they want it spent, depending on the district.

“I believe parents would have the authority to do that,” she said. “It would probably have to be some kind of policy or whatever put in by their locally elected governing board.”

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