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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Disney magic not the answer to TUSD’s fiscal issues

    It’s no secret that the Tucson Unified School District has had its share of money problems recently. Accounting errors, budget woes, cutbacks, layoffs and asset losses are just a few of the terms the district would like to erase from its vocabulary, for the public has just about had it with the district’s mismanagement of funds.

    This mistrust of the district is palpable this election cycle with respect to Proposition 403. This proposition would provide the district with an additional $28 million a year in tax revenues – well, maybe less, because TUSD is likely to “”misplace”” some of those funds from the get-go. The Tucson Citizen reports: “”Budget problems, including an estimated $15 million budget deficit for this school year, accounting mistakes and missing equipment have raised questions about giving the district more money.”” TUSD’s appalling reputation makes the passage of this proposition an uphill battle for the district, as voters are skeptical in these tough economic times.

    So how is TUSD combating its image problem and its lack of fiscal responsibility? You’ll never guess. TUSD is looking to the happiest place on earth, hoping some of that fairy-dust magic will work wonders.

    Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, the district’s new superintendent, wants to introduce her team to the Disney Institute and its Walt Disney management model, which she holds in high esteem. The Arizona Daily Star reports: “”The training will touch on how the company imparts its culture to its vast work force, how it makes workers feel valued, and how it communicates its vision to everyone from the guy who picks up the trash to the ride attendants.””

    Sure, it sounds like a nice approach to fixing customer service – who can resist a smile when confronted with a giant mouse? The Disney Institute training, however, boils down to an overpriced, lengthy customer service and employee appreciation seminar. In fact, it almost appears to be a pseudo-vacation. According to the Disney Institute’s Web site, seminar attendees receive one three-day Park Hopper Pass, “”special field experiences ‘on-stage’ and behind-the-scenes,”” and “”meetings with front-line leaders and cast members.””

    If anything, this proposed training seems to reinforce the district’s reputation for lackadaisical money management. The Disney Institute comes with a sticker price of nearly $3,600 per person, and the district has proposed sending five staffers to the training. Yet, according to the Star, “”Fagen said she’s going about it with an eye on the budget.””

    Fagen asserts this seminar will enable the district to recruit more qualified teachers and staff, which will directly impact student learning. Though a positive working environment is important to staff, Disney magic won’t pay the bills. TUSD needs to focus its efforts on money management, the real issue that plagues the district, in order to retain high-quality staff. Let’s face it: money talks.

    In 2006 the district misspent a $5.57 million surplus meant for one-time teacher bonuses, prompting calls for an audit and investigation. In August 2007, TUSD teachers picketed schools over pay disputes, opposing TUSD’s miserable offer of a pay increase on their median salary of $38,500 for the 2006-07 school year. Hundreds of teachers called in sick to protest the proposed pay increase.

    If the district wants to attract more qualified teachers, then it needs to beef up its pay. TUSD’s teachers make less than the national median salary for teachers based on years of experience. TUSD needs to work toward providing competitive salaries to lure and retain high-quality teachers. Teachers want to feel valued, and upping their pay to keep pace with inflation and cost of living increases is the most tangible way of demonstrating that appreciation. They don’t want to be cast members at Disneyland; they want to teach and make ends meet for their families.

    If the issue were customer service, then TUSD would be on the right track, but the Disney training fails to address the key issue of fiscal responsibility. At the end of the day, it’s a waste of time and money and leaves the district no better off to ameliorate the current state of TUSD. Perhaps Fagen should send some staffers back to college for Accounting 101 instead. It might be a more effective strategy.


    – Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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