Gilbert Public School District’s Fewer Students Results In Fewer Teachers

Gilbert Public School District’s Fewer Students Results In Fewer Teachers

By Terri Jo Neff |

The Gilbert Public School District’s recent notice that 152 teachers, school counselors and nurses, and administrators will be without jobs for the 2021-2022 school year may have upset the staff, but issues with the district’s falling enrollment and worsening financial situation is nothing new.

In a letter sent last week to all staff, Superintendent Dr. Shane McCord noted “it is imperative that student needs remain at the center of our decision-making, and that we remain fiscally responsible to ensure the long-term success of our students, our employees, our schools, and our district as a whole.”

Earlier this month the Arizona Auditor General issued a District Spending Report which noted Gilbert Schools had a projected student enrollment of 33,360 at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year across 39 schools in Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa. That enrollment represented a six percent decrease from five years before, even though population within the district’s boundaries has grown.

But in December, the district’s governing board was informed that the 2020-2021 budget -based on 33,360 students- had to be revised for an actual enrollment of less than 29,000. In fact, the nearly 3,900 fewer students resulted in a revenue reduction of $26 million, Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said at the time.

“Statewide, there’s been a 40,000-student loss across the state,” Betz said. “The pandemic has had a significant impact on enrollment statewide.”

Some former Gilbert Schools students went to other districts or charter schools between July 2020 and December 2020, but even the larger Mesa Public Schools announced 3,500 fewer enrolled students during that same period. And the Arizona Department of Education recently announced that statewide enrollment for preschoolers and kindergarteners dropped off more than 40 percent over the last year.

Such decreases are expected to continue, contrary to hopeful claims by some within Gilbert Schools who believe enrollment will recover in the upcoming school year through an increase in primary grade students.

“While some parents of kindergarten and first grade students delayed the enrollment of their children this year in order to spare them the uncertainty created by the pandemic, the Gilbert district’s last minute decision-making has created an atmosphere of distrust that sent parents looking elsewhere,” one parent told AZ Free News.

It appears a majority of those students went into homeschool programs, which became popular -and in many instances necessary- for parents in response to districts kept changing their educational offerings during the pandemic.

Reaction from some teachers and legislators to McCord’s decision has pointed to the fact that the Gilbert Schools could have decreased class sizes instead of laying off teachers, even though the Arizona Auditor General report shows the district’s student to teacher ratio currently stands at 17.5 to 1, below the state average.

Voters in the Gilbert District approved a $100 million bond in 2019 to help build two new schools. There was also a 15 percent property tax override approved to help reduce class size and attract / retain teachers.

That doesn’t count the $2.3 million in federal funds passed along by the state to Gilbert Schools under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund covered by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Or the $9.7 million of ESSER II funds awarded to the district under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act in late 2020.

But with fewer enrolled students the district is not getting as much of that money as expected, which has been further exasperated by state education officials who decided to fund distance learners at a lower rate than in-person students.

If enrollment numbers rebound for the next school year then those who were not offered positions will be able to reapply.

“Gilbert Public Schools, along with many other school districts, faces a reduced number of students going into the next school year following the global pandemic. Decisions like this are not easily made, and as a school district, we greatly value all of our employees and their contributions. We continue to make every effort to increase enrollment for next year and it is our hope that many students lost during this pandemic will return to our schools over the next year.” – Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane McCord

Second Amendment Firearm Freedom Act Heads To Governor’s Desk

Second Amendment Firearm Freedom Act Heads To Governor’s Desk

PHOENIX – House Bill 2111, dubbed the Second Amendment Firearm Freedom Act, is headed to Governor Doug Ducey’s desk. The Arizona Senate passed the bill in 17-13 bipartisan vote on Tuesday.

The Act, sponsored by Representative Leo Biasiucci (R-5), prohibits state, county, and local governments from using resources to implement or enforce federal actions that are inconsistent with Arizona law regarding the regulation of firearms.

The Arizona Constitution prohibits the impairment of the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of the person’s self or the state. This does not authorize individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of people (Ariz. Const. art. 2 § 26).

“Arizona stands with law-abiding gun owners,” said Biasiucci in a press release. “The Second Amendment guarantees vital liberties, just like the First Amendment protects the freedom of speech and the Fourth Amendment prevents unreasonable searches and seizures. If the zealous gun-grabbers in Washington try to disarm citizens in the name of political posturing, we’re not going to allow it in Arizona.”

HB 2111 was passed by the House in a party line vote in February.

Wide-Ranging Pandemic Liability Bill Needs Just One More Vote To Reach Ducey

Wide-Ranging Pandemic Liability Bill Needs Just One More Vote To Reach Ducey

By Terri Jo Neff |

On Tuesday, the Arizona Senate is expected to vote one more time in favor of SB1377, a bill introduced by Sen. Vince Leach (R-LD11) to protect a wide range of businesses, government entities, and other organizations against liability for claims of negligence related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SB1377 initially passed the Senate last month with a minor amendment. It cleared the House on Monday on a 31 to 29 vote after another amendment. But because the House added yet another amendment to the bill, it must go back to the Senate for the caucus to concur or refuse the change, which is expected to be accepted Tuesday.

The bill would then be sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, who appears ready to sign it, thus establishing a new standard for COVID-19 related liability claims retroactive to March 10, 2020.

After Monday’s House vote, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce tweeted a thank you to the 31 representatives who voted for the bill. “This bill ensures frontline healthcare providers, businesses, schools, and other entities are extended commonsense liability protections that will help us get back to work,” the tweet said.

The legislation addresses liability claims involving a public health pandemic under a state of emergency declared by a governor. It protects any person or provider “who acts in good faith to protect a customer, student, tenant, volunteer, patient, guest or neighbor, or the public” from liability during a pandemic for an injury, death or loss to person or property based on a claim that the person or provider failed to protect against the public health emergency.

  • SB1377 establishes a presumption that a person or provider acted in good faith if the person or provider adopted and implemented “reasonable policies related to the public health pandemic.” No definition, however, is provided for what constitutes reasonable policies.
  • Those covered by the legislation as a provider include a person who furnishes consumer or business goods or services or entertainment; an educational institution, district, or charter school; a property owner, property manager or property lessor or lessee; a nonprofit organization; a religious institution;
  • the state, a state agency, or instrumentality; any local government or political subdivision, including all departments or commissions; a service provider; a health professional; or a health care institution.

A key feature of Leach’s bill is a change in the type of alleged acts or omissions which someone can pursue damages for related to the pandemic. It removes simple negligence as being actionable and would require a plaintiff to meet the criteria for gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Opponents argue the legislation creates unnecessary hurdles for Arizonans seeking legal redress and that business owners, government officials, and healthcare professionals will escape responsibility for death, injuries, and other harms by blaming faulty or careless decisions on the pandemic.

Even those lawsuits which clear the gross negligence or willful misconduct threshold may not be able to meet the second significant change SB1377 makes to civil liability standards.

Currently a jury is asked to determine if a plaintiff has proven a claim by the “preponderance” of the evidence, a standard based on whether something was more likely or not to have occurred.  But SB1377 raises that to a higher standard of “clear and convincing” evidence.

  • Among those who oppose SB1377 are the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, and Arizona Center for Disability Law. A constitutional challenge is expected if the bill becomes law based on provisions which make it harder for Arizonans to initiate legal action.

The most controversial provision of SB1377 relates to nursing care or residential care institutions.

An amendment added Monday puts the burden of proof on such institutions which wish to argue that a claim for an act or omission involving care not directly related to the public health pandemic should be mitigated because the institution had to treat other patients for the pandemic or that the institution experienced limitations of staff or equipment as a result of the pandemic.

Supporters of SB1377 include several insurance companies, as well as the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits, Arizona Auto Dealers Association, Arizona Bankers Association, Arizona Board of Regents, Arizona Healthcare Association, Arizona Medical Association, Arizona Restaurant Association, and the County Supervisors Association of Arizona.

State Of Arizona Officially Recognizes National Navajo Code Talkers Day

State Of Arizona Officially Recognizes National Navajo Code Talkers Day

WINDOW ROCK – On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1802, which officially declares Aug. 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day throughout the state of Arizona. In accordance with the bill, if National Navajo Code Talkers Day falls on a day other than Sunday, the Sunday following Aug. 14 is to be observed as the holiday.

“It’s wonderful to have the State of Arizona honor and recognize the sacrifices and contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers. It’s long overdue. We only have a few Navajo Code Talkers with us to this day, but we pay tribute to all of them and their families. Their legacy is strengthened with today’s signing of this bill and we hope that this will also help to share the stories of our Code Talkers so that many more people throughout the state are aware of everything that they gave for our country. Thank you to Arizona Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, a member of the Navajo Nation, for sponsoring the bill and getting it through the State Legislature,” said Navajo Nation President Nez.

“The Navajo people have had many warriors throughout our history, but today’s recognition by the State of Arizona is very special for our Navajo Code Talkers and their families. We appreciate the support of the state legislators and Gov. Ducey. Words will never be enough to express our admiration and appreciation for the Navajo Code Talkers, but today’s signing of Senate Bill 1802 is a great honor. We continue to honor and pray for all of our Navajo Code Talkers and their loved ones,” said Vice President Lizer.

“It’s important that all Arizonans remember the service and bravery of the Navajo Code Talkers,” said Sen. Peshlakai. “Their crucial service during WWII will not be forgotten, and we will continue to honor them every August 14th. Thank you to everyone who supported Senate Bill 1802.”

“The Navajo Code Talkers are American heroes. They assisted on every major operation involving the U.S. Marines in the Pacific theatre, using their native language to come up with an unbreakable code. More than 400 Code Talkers answered the call to serve our nation, and Arizona is grateful for their dedication to protecting our nation. I’m proud to sign legislation that makes National Navajo Code Talkers day an official holiday, and I thank Senator Peshlakai for leading on this initiative,” said Ducey.

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating Aug. 14 as National Navajo Code Talkers Day. In 2014, the state of Arizona passed legislation declaring August 14 as Navajo Code Talkers Day in the state. The bill signed on Monday recognizes the national proclamation signed by Reagan.

Increased Program Fees At ASU Favors Gender And Women’s Studies Over Other Programs

Increased Program Fees At ASU Favors Gender And Women’s Studies Over Other Programs

By Corinne Murdock |

Phoenix – According to their proposed fee increases, Arizona State University (ASU) has determined that a master’s in Gender and Women’s Studies should be more affordable than most other graduate programs.

ASU’s Gender and Women’s Studies students face a mere $80 increase. Other masters programs face increases up to hundreds of dollars higher. On the low end, Crime Analysis bears a $100 fee increase. On the high end, students wishing to receive their master’s in either Accountancy or Taxation must pay $1,000.

The new tuition schedules indicate that millions in federal COVID relief dollars weren’t enough for Arizona’s three public universities.

In December, Governor Doug Ducey gave $115 million of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to the state’s three universities. Both the University of Arizona (UArizona) and ASU received $46 million, and Northern Arizona University (NAU) received $23 million.

From the Joint Legislative Budget Committee:

Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund ($736 million): Federal Funds are distributed directly to institutions of higher education (IHEs). Arizona IHEs received $304 million from COVID 3. Of this amount, approximately $122 million went to public universities, $82 million to community colleges, and $101 million to private institutions. So far, Arizona IHEs have been allocated $432 million from COVID 4 and are expected to receive additional funds. Of the $432 million, $198 million will be distributed to public universities, $167 million to community colleges, and $67 million to private institutions. For both COVID 3 and COVID 4, some of these monies must be used for student grants, while the remainder may be used to offset revenue shortfalls. For public universities, a total of at least $118 million must be distributed as student grants. COVID 3 monies must be spent by September 30, 2022, and COVID 4 monies by September 30, 2023.

It is unclear what university expenditures necessitated fee increases, especially considering that students attended virtually during the pandemic.

Concerning the new tuition schedules, ABOR emphasized that none of the three proposals included any tuition increases. However, ABOR didn’t say anything about increased program fees.

ABOR Chair Larry Penley said in a press release that the new tuition schedules created by the university presidents “reflects our commitment to ensuring an affordable education even as our institutions experience fiscal challenges wrought from the pandemic.”

That commitment looks like an $80 program fee for an online Master of Arts degree in Women and Gender Studies, compared to a $1,000 per semester program fee increase for Master of Accountancy students.

It is unclear if the decision to increase program costs correlates to the anticipated earnings associated with a field. In those two examples, the average salary for a Women and Gender Studies graduate is $56,233, whereas the average salary for an individual with a Masters In Accountancy is $71,899.

Despite the massive amount of federal dollars, the proposals submitted by the three presidents also included changes to college fees, program fees, class fees, and meal and residence hall rates.

Here are what the increased costs include at one of the universities, ASU:

College of Health Solutions

  • Doctor of Audiology: $800/semester program fee increase
  • MS Communication Disorders: $1,700/semester program fee increase
  • MS Nutritional Science (Dietetics) – Online: $45/credit hour program fee increase
  • MS Strength and Conditioning: $2,500/semester – new program fee

Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

  • MS Regulatory Science: $2,000/semester – new program fee

Hershberger Institute for Design and the Arts

  • M of Architecture ; M of Visual Communication Design ; M of Industrial Design ; M of Interior Architecture ; M of Landscape Architecture ; M of Urban Design: $575/semester program fee increase
  • MS in Architecture: $875/semester program fee increase
  • MS Design in Industrial Design, Interior Architecture, Visual Communication Design: $500/semester program fee increase

Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

  • Master of Human Resources and Employment Law: $725/credit hour – new program fee
  • Master of Human Resources and Employment Law (Online): $658/credit hour – new program fee

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

  • MA Women and Gender Studies (Online): $80/credit – new program fee

 Thunderbird School of Global Management

  • MA Global Affairs and Management: $489/credit hour program fee increase
  • MA Global Affairs and Management (Executive): $489/credit hour program fee increase

Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

  • MS Crime Analysis: $100/credit hour – new program fee
  • MA Policy Advocacy (Online): $100/credit hour- new program fee

W.P. Carey School of Business

  • Graduate Certificate in Marketing (Online): $375/credit – new program fee
  • Graduate Certificate in Real Estate: $375/credit – new program fee
  • Master of Accountancy: $1,000/semester program fee increase
  • Master of Taxation: $1,000/semester program fee increase

Linked here are the NAU and UArizona proposed program fee increases.

Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to