If I had a nickel for every vote that ultimately defeated last November’s Maintenance and Operation Budget Override request for the Tempe Union High School District, I still wouldn’t have enough money to buy my wife and daughter a ticket to the movies, popcorn and drinks.
That campaign lost in 2012 by 811 votes. Other Southeast Valley school districts had similar fates. Chandler Unified lost; Higley lost. And Gilbert didn’t just lose, they were crushed. In fact, half of all the schools throughout Arizona lost in their request to budget the legislatively approved, authorized rate. But in the Southeast Valley, we outdid the state average. We managed a 100 percent failure rate. And in the Ahwatukee Foothills area, not one precinct supported the request on behalf of Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools. Not one.
Couple these losses with multiple years of state budget cuts to school funding and the reality is stark, humbling and demoralizing for most educators.
So where are we now? Many taxpayers believe we need a plan for our schools that doesn’t raise taxes at all. Many education advocates are now simply seeking to maintain current spending without any increases in tax rates, too. And here’s the good news for both sides, IT CAN BE DONE!
Recently, I joined a representative group of Tempe Union parents, civic leaders and concerned taxpayers to review the M&O Override, the 10 or 15 percent options, and what we’d recommend to the governing board. For the typical taxpayer, the difference is only about a buck and a half a month between the two options; a couple nickels a day. In Tempe, community leaders such as Angie Taylor Thornton supported a 15 percent override. So did Mel Hannah from Tempe Union’s Desert Vista High School site council.
But Rosalie Hirano, whose passion for education takes second place to nobody, joined me in urging a Tempe Union Citizen Finance Committee recommendation of 10 percent. While our citizen’s committee was about equally split between a 10 percent and 15 percent override recommendation, the governing board chose the lower amount. Message to taxpayers: “We heard you and we’re holding the line on spending. Will you support us now?”
In Tempe, failure to support a continuation of the current 10 percent override would cut nearly $6.5 million per year from existing budgets. Eighty-five percent of that money will come out of the classroom. I do believe taxpayers want schools to tighten their belts and not ask for an increase. I do not believe that Ahwatukee/Foothills taxpayers wish to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, or put our children literally in the streets as we scale back or eliminate many after-school programs to enable further massive cuts.
My message is simple. Your yes vote will NOT increase your current tax rate on any proposed Maintenance and Operation Override if the school district is asking for a “continuation.” It will simply maintain it exactly where it is. Not one penny more.
So when Tempe Union (on behalf of Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools) asks for our permission to continue an existing override, they are respecting taxpayers’ wish to hold the line on spending. They are NOT proposing an increase in taxes. And if we’re still short a few nickels a day, may I suggest checking the creases in the couch before we cut classroom spending again? We are indeed risking much for little, a bad proposition for our community and our children by any standard.
• Dick Foreman is an education advocate and community volunteer who lives in Tempe. He is co-chairman of the YYSOS Campaign supporting the TUHSD M&O Override.