Teachers Will Shuttle Between Schools As Dysart School District Deals With Budget Cuts
As the school year begins, Arizona faces a critical shortage of teachers. And in one West Valley school district, kindergarten teachers are being asked to do double duty, while their students have half days.
At Marley Park Elementary, kindergarten teachers Michelle Day and Amy Benton are prepping their classrooms for the upcoming school year.
They clearly enjoy their jobs.
“I absolutely love it. They are happy all the time, and excited to be here, just full of smiles and hugs no matter what happens," Day said.
“I taught preschool before I came to kindergarten, so I’ve always loved the younger kids. They’re just so much fun,” Benton said.
And this year, they’ll be seeing even more of them.
That’s because the Dysart School District will shuttle them daily between two separate schools.
“So, we’ll start the morning at Mountain View and we’ll start off with reading for about an hour and a half, and then we’ll have math for 45 minutes," Day said. "Then, we’ll have lunch period and travel time, and then we’ll start our afternoon at Marley Park and the same procedure will occur there, just with a different set of kids.”
In all, the journey is seven miles each way between schools and includes about 40 kids in the two different classrooms.
Why so much schlepping and prepping?
“The need to have the two different classrooms or the two different times is due to busing and the funding of buses," said Dana Kaye, Marley Park's principal.
That funding was cut last year when voters in the Dysart district decided against a nearly $19 million budget override, forcing severe cuts to kindergarten classes that result in half days for the kindergarteners in all of the district’s 19 K-8 schools.
"It is definitely going to be tougher doing our full curriculum on two and a half hours. However, our teachers have been planning this summer, trying to figure out how to get as much as the essential content," said Kaye. "Ideally, in a perfect world we want full-time kindergarten back."
The override is back on the ballot this fall.
Marley Park’s PTA President Lisa Fowler said the measure would help in many ways.
“The override protects specific items such as full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and also things such as our sports and fine art,” said Fowler.
Fowler and other parents fought hard to get it back on the ballot.
Jennifer Hobeck said she’s been affected personally and that the missing pieces are beginning to add up.
“Still, a lot of education needs to happen because people are afraid that their taxes are going to go up, when really they’re not going to up much at all," said Hobeck. "It’s very important, not only for kindergarten but for the fine arts because my daughter lost her sixth-grade band now. And she was excelling in band in fifth grade and now she’s without. She’s going to lose everything that she gained.”
As a public official, Dysart Assistant Superintendent for Education Steve Poling isn’t allowed to campaign for November’s initiative. But he said his district could sure use the money back.
“We’ve had many years of cuts. According to one report, Arizona led the nation in cuts during the recession and even since. And so, we’d certainly love to have more funds if that were possible," Poling said.
But for this school year, Dysart will make the best of a tough situation with dedicated teachers such as Amy Benton ready to go above and beyond for her “babies."
“I think it can be done. It’s not ideal, but with effective planning and talking with our principals and our reading coaches and all of our support staff that we have behind us, as a team we can get it done," said Benton.
Dysart’s school year starts Aug. 5. The new override measure is on the district’s ballot in November.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the distance between schools.
Updated 7/31/2015 at 4:56 p.m.