ROX Interview: Tim Carter

Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools

Interview by Ray Newton

Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter has a long look back in the rear view mirror of his education career. More than 46 years.

Forty have been in Prescott, Arizona, where Carter served as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal until his retirement in 2003.

Prior to becoming a career educator, Carter spent his youth on a ranch near historic Tombstone. He grew up riding thoroughbreds from the time he could climb into a saddle. It wasn’t until he graduated from Tombstone High School and decided to attend Glendale Community College that the husky Carter decided to major in education. He later received a B.S. degree in physical education from Grand Canyon College (GCC), and ultimately earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. Several years later, he completed requirements for an Arizona Superintendent Certificate.

His first teaching and coaching jobs were at Alchesay High School in the White Mountains in 1973 and later at Antelope High School in Southern Arizona in 1977. In 1979, he and his wife Linda moved to Prescott. He became an American Government and Introduction to Law teacher and the track and cross country coach at Prescott High School (PHS). He also coached the Mock Trial Team.

Linda taught and coached at Granite Mountain Middle School for many years before becoming a counselor. She retired in 2004.

The Carters have two adult children. Daughter Cierra works for the Chino Valley Unified School District, where she also volunteers as a coach. Son Levi earned a degree at NAU and currently is a conductor for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

Carter joined the administrative ranks at Prescott High School in 1991, where he served as assistant principal for student services. He later was named principal, a role he kept until his retirement in 2003. During his brief retirement, he taught classes at Yavapai College and for the University of Phoenix.

Then in July 2005 Carter was unanimously selected as the Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors. He has been elected four times since and will hold that position until 2020.

He is the recipient of many recognitions, including North Central Accrediting Assn Circle of Excellence in 2001, was named to the Arizona Track Coaches Hall of Fame, and selected as the 2003 Arizona School Administrator of the Year. He was honored by the Capitol Times as the 2010 Educational Leader of the Year for Public Policy and as the JTED/CTE Policy Maker of the Year in both 2013 and 2014. The AdvanceEd organization selected him for a Circle of Excellence Award in 2018. That same year, he was named Distinguished Administrator of the Year in the Superintendent’s Division by Arizona School Administration personnel. In 2017, Grand Canyon University named him to its Hall of Fame.

Active in civic and service organizations, Carter was secretary of the Prescott Sunrise Lions Club. He also was Advancement Chair for Boy Scout Troop One. At the state level, he was named to the Arizona State School Board of Education, where he served as vice president and president. In 1988, he was named to represent Congressional District 3 as a George H.W. Bush Delegate to the Republican National Convention. He serves on several boards of directors for charitable and philanthropic education organizations within Yavapai County.

In his role as Yavapai County School Superintendent, Carter serves the entirety of Yavapai County and its 26 school districts, 24 charter schools and 102 campuses.

Prescott LIVING: Tim, your entire career has been dedicated toward public education. What have been your most satisfying moments?

Tim Carter: I have looked forward to going to work every single day for 45 years . I don’t regret a single day. I started as a teacher. I’ve been a coach, a department chair, an assistant principal and a principal. I’m in my 15th year now as the County School Superintendent.

Prescott LIVING: What attracted you into education as a career?

Tim Carter: I spoke recently to a 4.0 Honors Dinner for the Prescott Sunrise Lions Club. I told them, “You know, one of the things you need to realize is that until I was about 11 years old, I fully planned to be a jockey.” I was raised on a thoroughbred ranch. I had ridden horses since I was old enough to get on one. But by the time I was 11, I knew otherwise. Today at 6’4 and 260 pounds that obviously didn’t go the direction I wanted it to go. When I graduated from high school, I decided to go into education. Specifically, I wanted to coach.

Prescott LIVING: Most challenging career moments?

Tim Carter: Probably within the last 20 years, the biggest challenge has been dealing with the lack of funding for public schools. If we look back over 45 years of education, the changes that have happened have been of magnitude.

When I graduated from high school, we didn’t know what a computer was, what the internet was, what a microwave was, what a cellphone was. I look back at my career; a big segment of it was pretechnology. During a time period in which technology was emerging, we had a very difficult time trying to find the funding to implement it in schools.

There are still teachers who are digital dinosaurs, who have never really embraced technology. Most of us are digital immigrants. We kind of adopted it over time. We’re dealing now with youngsters who are digital natives.

Prescott LIVING: What other shifts have you seen in curriculum?

Tim Carter: Some people have the misguided opinion that the process of establishing and implementing the curriculum has changed. They believe that somehow the state and the federal government has taken that over. That’s absolutely not true. What the federal and the state governments have tried to do is create a set of academic standards uniform for everyone.

In Arizona, our standards tend to be state-based standards. The standard tells us what we have to teach at what level. If I’m looking at a math standard at the elementary kindergarten level, all students before they leave kindergarten should be able to count from zero to 100 by ones and tens. Who’s going to argue that’s not a good standard?

The standard doesn’t say how we do it, who does it, what order it’s done in, what materials we have to use, what kind of instructional methods we have to employ. Those are all local control decisions. The standard is not curriculum. The average person really has difficulty understanding the difference between a standard (what is to be taught) and the curriculum and instruction methodology (how it’s to be taught). There’s a huge distinction.

Prescott LIVING: Help us understand school choice, Tim.

Tim Carter: Historically, this was your school — one in the legally defined school district where you lived. If you wanted to go anyplace else, either your parents had to pay to send you to a private school, or they would have to pay tuition to a neighboring district. More recently, open enrollment — the right to pick what school you want to attend — changed all of that. School choice had one of the biggest impacts on our educational system. It certainly has made schools more competitive. It has also opened up avenues by which parents and students absolutely have control over where they send their child.

Anymore, if I’m unhappy with the school district and I can find a charter that better meets my needs, I can send my child to that charter. As long as it’s not at capacity, they have to accept that child. The tax dollars will flow to that school. It is a public school and is paid for by tax money.

Prescott LIVING: That’s a key point, isn’t it, Tim? Many people don’t realize charter schools are paid through the state.

Tim Carter: They are public. That is part of the definition of a charter school. Charter school funding comes from the state general fund. There is no property tax support, because a charter isn’t a political subdivision.

In contrast, in a school district you have geographical boundaries. Those property owners therein are taxed. That is part of that funding. Then the state general fund is the other part of what’s called an equalization process.

Prescott LIVING: How does such funding affect school facilities? What’s your perception of school facilities?

Tim Carter: There have been significant changes around the area of school facilities. Not so much the actual, physical structure itself. But the funding and who was making the decisions.

I can show you some schools built with private money on private property. Then they were deeded to a local school district board, as long as it was used as an educational facility.

We got to a point where individuals either couldn’t do that, or it didn’t seem appropriate they were doing that. That’s where the whole school bonding concept came in. That concept involves asking voters to raise taxes to get an amount of money to build the school and purchase the land on which it is built.

Sometimes, you have districts that can pass bonds. Those districts can support nice facilities. But the district right next door can’t pass a bond so their facilities might be very old, very likely not well maintained. That creates a disparity. Yet Article 11 of the Arizona State Constitution makes it an obligation of the state to fund education, including to provide education facilities.

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled, “The funding formula is unconstitutional. We have to find a different way to do it.” That is when the school facilities board was born. For about 12 to 15 years, the school facilities board was funded fairly well by the Arizona State Legislature. That board supported a lot of schools, and it brought several schools up to a minimum standard. It completed many repairs. It extended the life of some old buildings that long-term saved taxpayers a lot of money. But support for funding SFB has diminished.

Now we’re trying to do things in the realm of facilities that we would never really even have given serious thought to back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Back then, we didn’t have people walking into schools and doing just really crazy things — assaults, school shooting.

I look at school safety. What would have been deemed as a safe school in 1970 would certainly not be deemed a safe school now. When I went to high school, almost everybody who drove themselves had a firearm in the vehicle. That’s because a lot of people hunted and lived in remote areas. Today it’s a federal and state crime to take a weapon into a school.

Prescott LIVING: Support mechanisms in schools have changed radically during the years, Tim. Tell us about school counselors, advisers, nurses, medical personnel, librarians, bus drivers, transportation — how has that changed?

Tim Carter: For years, schools have gone well beyond just having a group of students and a teacher in a classroom.

Over time, as schools became the health-care center, the food distributor, the source of social welfare services, there were valid reasons why those social and cultural changes happened. We shifted from a time when school was very simple, completely dedicated to instruction — with literally just a teacher and a group of students. Now we have many parents and other people expecting schools to be all things to all people.

We have seen an increase of auxiliary staff who provides critical services to the school itself and specifically the students.

For instance, the Yavapai County Education Service Agency (YCESA) — our agency — provide services to virtually every local education agency (LEA) in Yavapai County. These are services we package because the schools have come to us and said, “We need these services (nursing, for example), and we don’t have enough money to hire a nurse.”

We have embraced the concept of shared services, where instead of five schools districts all hiring a nurse, each spending $50,000 to $80,000 a year, our agency hires the nurse. We create contracts with each of those five districts. The nurse is in District A on Monday and District B on Tuesday and so on.

What we have found is that we can share those services, provide those services necessary and save everybody money. We’re not trying to make a profit; we just have to recover our costs.

We also have things today we would have never thought about years ago. My agency has an emergency response team. We can put 10 to 12 people at any school in Yavapai County within about two hours once we have notice of some kind of an emergency. We recently had two young ladies from a local high school pass away as a result of a car accident. We had 10 counselors there the next day.

Prescott LIVING: Tim, in Yavapai County, we’ve got economically disadvantaged kids. We’ve got kids without parents …

Tim Carter: In the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the typical family was two parents and the children. One of them worked, and one of them very well may have stayed home. At some point in time it transitioned to they both work.

Now, we also deal with as many grandparents or uncles or aunts or sisters as substitutes for parents. Society has changed.

There is a proposal out there to say that schools should spend more money in the classroom. Boy, on the surface, that sounds like a great idea. But if you look at the legal definition of a classroom, it is the teacher and the aide.

The counselor, the nurse, the curriculum director, the librarian, the bus driver, the principal, the assistant principal — all those people are all considered to have administrative functions. Even though they provide a service that is directly and positively related to what happens in that classroom, they are not considered part of the legal definition of a classroom.

Prescott LIVING: How much impact did Red for Ed have? (Editor’s note: Red for Ed was a 2017-2018 grassroots movement led by Arizona Educators United and part of a national outcry for teachers and educators for better and significantly improved education funding. Many wore red T-shirts.)

Tim Carter: I think it’s really too soon to know. I think that question mark is still very much out there. Let’s go back and realize that in February of ‘18, I was one of a handful of people in a meeting with the governor. We were told, “We’re not going to be able to provide any additional education funding over 2%. It can’t happen. The money is simply not there.”

Two months later, with thousands and thousands of red shirts at the Capitol day after day, all of a sudden, “Well, we can do 10% this year. And we’ll do 5% the next year and 5% the year after that.”

Isn’t it amazing how political pressure influences people and changes their political will to make something happen? I’m not criticizing the governor, in fact I am proud of what he did, but that’s a great example. We went from 2% to all of a sudden we’re going to give you a package of 20% within three years.

What happened? What changed that decision? Red for Ed, and the political pressure it bought to bear.

Even so, that barely moved the financial needle. If we go back and look at the funding from between 2008 and 2012, we lost 36% of statewide funding for K-12. When the governor first came into office, he would routinely talk about the fact that he had worked with the Legislature to restore 9%. That’s true. He did. And now we have 20% added to that through next year. Let’s add that whole 20% to the 9%, that’s 29%.

But we’re still 7% below where we were in 2008.

That’s assuming we were fully funded in 2008. I’m going to absolutely argue we weren’t. So, Red for Ed pulled off a political coup. That, in my view, is unparalleled in Arizona educational history. It extended into the 2018 elections in November. We certainly know that the House and the Senate in Arizona had earlier been heavily Republican-controlled, for decades. Now it’s Republican-controlled — but with very narrow majorities in each house.

What’s sad is that in Arizona, even with that 20% increase, and even with that 9% more, we’re still 47-49th in the nation, depending on the factors you look at. As a society we should simply acknowledge that is not appropriate.

Prescott LIVING: You’re personally involved in recruiting teachers. What steps are you taking?

Tim Carter: I believe the biggest personnel issue we have in Arizona right now is recruiting and retaining teachers and leaders.

Money is not the only issue. The working environment, and, “Can I find a place to live?” and, “Am I enjoying the people I’m working with?” are major issues. The reality is a big chunk of those issues involve dollars. If we compare salaries in Yavapai County with other places, all I have to do is drive to the north Valley (Phoenix), and I can get a $14,000 pay raise. If I leave Arizona and go to California, I get about a $20,000 raise.

It is simply more expensive to live in Yavapai County. We’re having a very difficult time finding teachers. It used to be that we would get 70 or 80 applicants for vacancies. Now, if we get five or six applicants, that’s about average for a lot of our positions. Often, we get none.

We’ve had problems for years finding math, science, foreign language, special education teachers. But a new phenomenon is we’re having a hard time finding physical education teachers, social studies teachers and third-grade teachers.

The result? I’m helping to recruit teachers in conjunction with various school districts and charter schools, because they obviously are saying, “What can we do?”

We’re trying to get people to be more engaged in things like job fairs, in going out of state and recruiting. If you look at states like Michigan and South Dakota, which are producing 12% more teachers than they’re going to employ, we can recruit there. That tells me it’s a really good idea to go to those state universities and recruit. We’ve been especially successful in South Dakota.

Also, some rural schools can’t find affordable housing for their teachers. So some teachers probably go to the Valley to teach because there’s more available housing.

One school district in Arizona bought a hotel, redesigned it. Now it’s a group of apartments for those particular teachers. At least a half dozen districts have specific housing for teachers as part of their contracts. We’ve got districts looking at bringing in trailers and tiny houses. We’re having conversations with Yavapai College about 3D-printer houses.

Let’s take Prescott, Arizona for example. How many young families with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old can afford a $300,000-$400,000 house to buy or rent?

Based on what a young family with a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old is going to earn, even if they’re both working, we just need to look around us and come to grips with the fact that those people are not going to buy that expensive of a house. They’re not going to pay a thousand dollars a month for rent. They can’t.

Another thing we’ve done — and are having some pretty serious success with — is “grow your own.” There are people who already live here, their family is here. They may own a home here. Maybe it’s a bank teller, a taxicab driver, a person who works at a feed store. It could be almost anybody who is already embedded in this community. So can we retrain them to become a certified teacher?

If they already have a degree we are only talking about a semester in many cases to get a teaching certificate. Maybe they have an associate’s degree. Now we’re talking about less than two years. Can we get that done in a year and a half?

Online options were something that we didn’t have several years ago. That’s the wave of the future. Technology makes that kind of education possible. If we can grow our own, we know the likelihood of them being retained is very, very good. One recruit who we brought down from South Dakota was an awesome teacher, stayed with us for two years, but recently took a job down in Peoria, getting an $11,000 pay raise. But if it is someone who already lives here, we will likely have that teacher in our classrooms until retirement.

Prescott LIVING: Shifting gears, many people do not realize your agency has educational control over the juvenile detention facility program.

Tim Carter: We’re very proud of that. The juvenile detention school is now called Prescott Lakes Parkway School. We have a complete school within the juvenile detention facility because one of our obligations is to provide education for detained and adjudicated youth. As an outgrowth of that, we created the accommodation school district, which currently has three campuses that are pretty much at capacity. Years ago, when you used the words “accommodation school,” people thought about those kids who had been long-term suspended or expelled. Today that definition is much broader. Maybe it’s the young mother who has to have her child in school, or the young man who has a full-time job from 9 to 5 and has to take his classes before 9 and after 5. We try to find a way to make that young person successful by accommodating them, no matter if it’s a physical issue or a time issue.

Those students have to meet the same standards as everybody else. When I first took office, I was told, “You can’t get accommodation schools accredited.” Within a year and a half, we had it accredited. If you’re willing to set high school standards and meet those standards, you can get it accredited. Our juvenile detention school is also fully accredited and was the first in Arizona. Our agency is the only education service agency in Arizona to be fully accredited. We are extremely proud of that.

Prescott LIVING: It has been said the accommodation school here is the model for the state. Is that true?

Tim Carter: (Smiling) Without sounding immodest, I believe that to be true. And the awards our teachers, administrators and programs receive on a regular basis is a tribute to it.

I think one of the reasons we do so well here is we have an awesome partnership among the Juvenile court, the Superior Court, juvenile probation, Yavapai County government, the Yavapai County attorney’s office and the county school superintendent’s office. It is a partnership that really allows us to leverage resources to the benefit of the student and the community. The issue is, would we rather spend a minimum amount of dollars now, or spend substantially more in the future?

Prescott LIVING: I’m going to put more focus on you, Tim. What do you do for a hobby, relaxation? I know you love to fish and hunt.

Tim Carter: I do love to fish and hunt. I was raised in that environment. My son loves that, and my grandson loves that also. There are a lot of things educationally related that I also enjoy. I’m a hunter-education teacher.

I also was actively engaged in Troop One Boy Scouts here in Prescott for years as the advancement chairman. And when we’re done today, I’m going to be going to archery practice out at Heritage Middle School in Chino Valley to watch my grandson. He’s quite an accomplished archer. They were the state champions for the second year in a row. I’m not bragging, oh yes, I am. He just returned from his second national championship up in Utah, where the team finished third in the nation and Skyler improved his collective score (bullseye and 3D) by over 30 points.

Prescott LIVING: What do you and your wife Linda do together?

Tim Carter: (Chuckles) We see each other a couple times a week at least. And she likes to hunt and fish and camp also.

She loves the outdoors. She usually travels with me if I have to travel out of state. We created a bucket list several years ago, initially put about 20 things on it. We’ve probably accomplished about 10 of those, and we try to do at least one of those a year. Funny thing — there’s at least 20 things still on that list. She enjoys traveling and I enjoy traveling as well. She is very much into our children and our grandson. She is simply the best mother and grandmother I know.

Prescott LIVING: Last question. Do you plan to retire? It wouldn’t appear so.

Tim Carter: The answer is, I will probably never fully retire. I can’t imagine exactly what life will be like being fully retired. My term ends in December 2020. That’ll put me at 15 and half years, the longest serving county superintendent in the history of the county. That’s a prestigious honor. But I’ve got to make a decision here within the next few months. When I do retire, whenever that is, I anticipate that I will continue to stay involved, probably teaching college classes in education (school law and school finance), or political science, or conducting professional development for boards, administrators or teachers, or take on some consulting roles.

Not working 60 hours a week. I could probably deal with that.

(Flashes a broad grin) Maybe I need to start thinking about it more actively.