2 district leaders weigh in on education funding crisis and Gov. Ducey's plan

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Kyrene School District superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely, left, and Valley district CFO Jeremy Calles, right. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Kyrene School District superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely, left, and Valley district CFO Jeremy Calles, right. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing his plan for a 20 percent pay increase for teachers but education supporters say it's not enough. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Gov. Doug Ducey is pushing his plan for a 20 percent pay increase for teachers but education supporters say it's not enough. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Projected average for an Arizona teacher would be more than $58,000. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Projected average for an Arizona teacher would be more than $58,000. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The governor's plan aims to bring back millions of those dollars cut during the recession, but that per-pupil formula is from 20 years ago and doesn't account for inflation and today's dollars. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The governor's plan aims to bring back millions of those dollars cut during the recession, but that per-pupil formula is from 20 years ago and doesn't account for inflation and today's dollars. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

Thousands flooded the state Capitol on Thursday, saying the time is now. Of course, the issue is money.

After a decade of drastic decline, the education crisis came to a head, raising the red flag all over Arizona.

[READ MORE: 50,000 AZ teachers & supporters march, rally in historic strike]

It's been gaining ground for weeks. The powerful Red for Ed movement forced Gov. Doug Ducey to the table with a promising proposal to give teachers what they're asking for: a 20 percent raise by the year 2020.

That hike would bring teachers up from an average of $42,730, but they would still be below the national average of $55,800.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Average teacher salary by state]

Under the governor's plan, new education spending would top more than $200 million over the next two years. A Valley district CFO, Jeremy Calles, says it's a good place to start.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona schools in crisis]

"It doesn't replace all the money that we've lost over the years, but in the 13 years that I've been doing school finance, this is the most money that I've seen come in, in one given year," Calles explained.

That's if the plan goes through and how each of the state's more than 200 districts decides to use it.

[RELATED: Arizona school districts release plans for teacher walkout]

"Do you want to take the money and divide it up amongst all employees which lowers the percentage, or do you risk the fact that you hurt overall morale by only giving the money to teachers?" asks Calles.

Teacher pay, which comes from district maintenance and operations budgets, is only part of the issue. The money for books, desks and chairs and computers falls under a separate category called capital spending. That money has been slashed more than 85 percent.

[SLIDESHOW: Tens of thousands of teachers march for pay raise]

"Ten years ago with capital funding, we have a per-pupil capital amount for a high school that was $562 10 years ago. Today, it's about $70," explained Calles.

The governor's plan aims to bring back millions of those dollars cut during the recession, but that per-pupil formula is from 20 years ago and doesn't account for inflation and today's dollars.

[RELATED: Budget, tax cuts led teachers to strike]

That's why the biggest criticism of Gov. Ducey's plan from education advocates is, it isn't enough.

The funding crisis puts district leaders like Kyrene School District superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely in a tricky spot.

"We receive a fixed amount. Again, it's about a thousand dollars less a student than it was about 10 years ago. It's very difficult because we have had to really make very difficult choices about what we're able to offer and what we're not able to offer," Dr. Vesely explains.

She says there's no level playing field when it comes to districts throughout the state. The superintendent acknowledges Kyrene is one of the lucky ones thanks to voters consistently passing bonds and overrides.

"Had it not been for the support of our community, we would be in a very, very different place as many other districts are in the state of Arizona," she explained.

[RELATED: Governor to Arizonans: Tell your legislators to vote for proposed teacher pay raise]

When she took the position, Dr. Vesely asked for an outside audit of every dollar spent, then re-worked the district's finances.

The latest report from Arizona's Auditor General shows Kyrene puts more money into instruction and spends less on administration than the state's average.

[RELATED: Exodus of teachers from Arizona classrooms]

And for the first time, Dr. Vesely says the district put teachers on a salary schedule to recognize experience and education and to help keep them on the job.

"I have never seen the amount and the degree of teachers leaving this profession as I have over the last several years," said Vesely of the state's critical teacher shortage.

And she expects it will only get worse when the current generation of teachers retires and new ones are nowhere to be found. 

"All three universities have said to me, 'I have no pipeline for you,'" describes the superintendent.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Total number of teachers working in Arizona]

She says like most districts, 88 percent of the budget goes to pay employees who are mostly teachers, with not much left for necessities like the buses, lunch service, building updates, safety measures and technology.

[RELATED: Conservative group says teachers shouldn't blame Gov. Ducey for low pay]

That's why she and other experts are convinced the issue is not spending, it's our lack of state revenue. 

"While I think that the state is doing everything they can for education funding, I think maybe the pie is a little too small. We might want the pie to grow a little bigger so that we have more to be able to offer public education," said Dr. Vesely.

"We took a lot of deep cuts during the recession. We took some hidden cuts during the recession that still haven't been discussed and because of those cuts, people want to see us get back to the pre-recession levels and then grow from there," explained Calles.

And while money is clearly what teachers lack most these days, Dr. Vesely points out that's tied to another challenge.

"Today I think if you talk to teachers and you ask them what is their biggest frustration and they're going to tell you, 'respect,'" she said.

Dr. Vesely argues a fair paycheck leads to good schools and communities, thus investing in children and education is one of the building blocks of a strong economy.

[RELATED: 'Stay on the job!' AZ school superintendent urges teachers not to strike]

"Because if you think about the impact that a quality foundation and a quality education makes for a child, and then you roll that forward 20 or 30 or 40 years, that is going to have a significant impact on our country," said Vesely. 

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