Funds from tribes' casinos help school districts
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 9, 2004 12:00 AM
When you drop a quarter into an Arizona slot machine, money
trickles into Tempe's Bustoz Elementary School, where reading coach Jane
Clevenger can spend a few more hours helping children write sentences.
The quarters and dollars find their way into bonus checks for teachers at Murphy
Elementary School District.
Casino money also pays for teacher Natalie Espinosa to help Shadow Mountain High
School students retake courses they failed on computers.
Other school districts are waiting for the money to grow before making promises
to teachers or starting programs.
The money is from a proposition voters approved in November 2002 that allowed
tribes to offer Las Vegas-style blackjack and add slot machines. In return,
casinos send a percentage of money from gaming machines to the state Department
of Education four times a year.
Arizona tribes have made three payments totaling about $9.15 million.
Tribes gave their third contribution for schools, about $3.12 million, to the
state late last month. The money goes to all public schools, including charters
and juvenile corrections centers.
For every $100 poured into a slot machine at a tribal casino, $1 to $8 goes to
the state. The tribes pay different percentages based on the amount of money
they have made that year. Using a complex formula, the money is divided between
schools, local governments, the state Gaming Department, trauma and emergency
services, tourism and Arizona wildlife conservation. The education share goes to
the Department of Education, which hands out money to districts based on their
Up to half of schools' money may go to boosting teachers' salaries or reducing
class size. The other half can go to dropout prevention or programs to improve
instruction, such as reading classes.
Some schools are already using the money.
• In the Tempe Elementary School District, part of the money will pay for
teachers to attend a day of training. The rest will pay for schools to hire
full-time reading coaches instead of part-time ones. Jane Clevenger now works a
full day at Bustoz to help classroom teachers use different methods to teach
students to read.
"There was no consistency," Clevenger said. "You can't teach essay writing and
be there every other day."
On a recent Wednesday, she helped a teacher and second-grade students practice
arranging sentences, and older students, many of whom are learning English,
change true stories they wrote into fictional ones.
• In the Paradise Valley Unified School District, half the money will go to
The district hired teachers at five high schools to help students work on
computer programs to pass courses they failed. Before, when students at Shadow
Mountain High School failed Algebra I, they sometimes moved right on to Algebra
II, Assistant Principal Bob Rossi said.
"That drove me crazy," he said.
This semester, students listen to instructors on headphones and complete
exercises and tests online. Natalie Espinosa helps, too.
"I try to look for someone who has been sitting for a few minutes with the same
problem," she said. "We sit together and break it down or I encourage one of
their peers to work with them."
The remainder of the money will pay for eight new aides to help students in
middle schools move from English as a second language classes into regular
classes. Patrick Sweeney, principal at Vista Verde Middle School, said about 10
percent of his students are in classes to learn English.
"One role of the aide is to keep a commitment going with parents and provide
support, academic tutoring, monitoring homework and maybe going into the
classroom," Sweeney said.
But other school districts haven't touched a dime of the money allotted to them.
One reason is that the money is not a huge windfall. For example, Kyrene School
District has received a couple hundred thousand dollars. That's not much
compared with the district's $86 million operating budget, said Gail Anderson,
director of business services.
Tim Ham, assistant superintendent of business services at Creighton Elementary
School District, said it would take millions of dollars to lower class sizes
enough to help students learn better.
"A hundred thousand (dollars) may buy you 2 1/2 teachers, maybe three," Ham
Another reason that some districts have not used the money yet is that officials
did not know much money was coming their way.
Tribal contributions fluctuate depending on how much money they have made so far
that year. And tribes use different calendars, said Christa Severson, Gaming
She said contributions are expected to rise as tribes add slot machines.
The variation has left school officials uncertain.
Tom Elliott, assistant superintendent for administrative services for the Cave
Creek Unified School District, said district officials did not commit the money
because they did not know how much they could count on.
"We decided to lay low and wait to see the pattern," Elliott said.
District business officials say districts will decide how to use the money when
they write budgets in spring for the next school year.