November 1, 2006 - It's a one-shot deal.

The state Legislature has given Pima County one chance to form a Joint Technological Education District, an overlay school district that supporters say will capture millions of dollars for career and technical education programs. The item is Proposition 400 on Pima County ballots.

Eleven school district governing boards - including Amphitheater and Marana school districts - voted this spring to enter the JTED fray and send the issue to the voters Nov. 7.

The districts in which Proposition 400 passes will form a separate district bent on ramping up vocational education programs. The districts in which voters reject the measure cannot join.

Ten of these super districts have formed since 1990, when the Legislature first allowed their formation. Maricopa County has the most.

The state each year allocates $54 million for JTEDs. Prop 400 supporters want Pima County to get its share.

Pima County's school districts fund their Career and Technical Education programs with the federal Perkins Grant and a smaller state grant. These monies have remained flat for more than 15 years, said Kathy Frazier, who helps oversee Tucson Unified School District's CTE programs.

"We're struggling to keep up with technology in these programs," Prather said. "There's this strong emphasis on AIMS, and CTE is taking a back seat."

A JTED is partially funded by a tax levy of 5 cents per $100 of assessed secondary property tax. In other words, the owner of a $100,000 house pays $5 each year; the owner of a $250,000 house pays $15. The Legislature has capped the JTED tax levy at 5 cents.

The state gives each district $1 per student per day. If a JTED is formed, the state gives an extra 25 cents for each student in a CTE class.

Last year, these average daily membership numbers resulted in $54 million the state earmarked for the existing 10 JTEDs and their 70 school districts. Pima's JTED could receive about $10 million through the extra student funding and property tax.

There has been talk of using the additional ADM funding to provide transportation to students going from school to school for courses.

In Marana, CTE funding has dropped by as much as $30,000 in between school years. Last year, the programs received almost $300,000, a number that could double with a JTED, officials estimated.

Mountain View and Marana high schools offer more than 20 career-specific classes. About 2,000 juniors and seniors at both high schools take the classes, which include interior design, photography, computer programming and culinary arts.

About 100 students each year get turned away from the popular culinary program. Several other programs have reached student capacity, CTE Coordinator for Marana's high schools Cathie Raymond told the EXPLORER in an interview back in March.

In addition to TUSD, Amphi and MUSD, the following districts will have Prop 400 on their ballots: Ajo, Catalina Foothills, Flowing Wells, Indian Oasis-Baboquivari, Sahuarita, Sunnyside, Tanque Verde and Vail.

Only two districts need to pass the measure to form a JTED. The districts in which the proposition does not pass can join the overlay district in the future, said Tina Norton, Chief Financial Officer for the Pima County School Superintendent's office.

"But the voters would still have to approve it," Norton said.

A JTED operates like any school district. It will have a superintendent, other administrators and a governing board, which cannot include any member of the participating districts' boards.

If voters approve a JTED, each district will appoint someone to the JTED governing board. Eventually, district lines are redrawn to create a near-equal population base. A JTED board that begins with 11 members could have only five once this happens.

JTEDs operate under two models. The districts can build a central campus or run a satellite district where students are bused to existing locations for certain classes.

The Pima JTED would begin as a quasi-satellite district, with participation from Pima Community College. All students, including those home schooled and attending charter and private schools, can participate in JTED courses. However, if a district's voters shoot down a JTED, home shcoolers and those attending charter and private schools in that district cannot participate.

In the future, the Pima JTED could have more than one "central" regional facility, officials said.

Formed in July 2003, Western Maricopa Education Center has a misleading name. The 12-district JTED operates as a satellite district. Voters rejected West-Mec's attempt to use bond monies to build a central facility.

West-Mec's initial eight-member governing board shrank to five members when the district redrew lines.

"(School districts) have to realize they are entering into a partnership with a whole new district," West-Mec's Superintendent Greg Donovan said. "With that, you do things differently. You just have to accept it."

Pima Association of Taxpayers Treasurer Mary Schuh will not accept it. The former Amphi board member cannot vote for something that has so many unknowns, she said, referring to a potential JTED's governing board as a group of "faceless people."

Schuh sees no pressing need for the super district. Pima County's high schools all have vocational programs, and Tucson has no "wonderful industries" that could benefit, she said.

"I don't need to be paying for Jim Click to get a mechanic," Schuh said, adding that many of Pima's school districts already tax their citizens for extra budget money.

"I don't mind somebody whipping on me, but I'm getting tired of being beaten to death (with taxes)," she said.

Schuh referenced a 2004 audit of JTEDs by the state Auditor General. The report cited a huge difference between the satellite and central operations, even finding that many member districts did not use all of its JTED-generated money for vocational education.

The analysis continued: " … unlike Central JTED classes, the member district Satellite classes were generally no more extensive than typical high school vocational classes."

Administrators and board members seemed to "exercise little or no oversight of these Satellite courses, providing almost no input for course content or other improvements."

The Auditor General also found that two JTEDs overstated the number of students participating, and therefore, received more funding than they should have. The report, however, did find that centralized JTEDs offered much higher-quality courses.

"Lastly, as a method of funding vocational education, the JTED Satellite model is inequitable and less efficient than funding districts directly," the audit stated.

The overlay district would level the money playing field, argued Bob Schlanger, owner of British Car Services on Stone Avenue.

"This is not about paying more money," Schlanger said. "What we're asking for is not very much."

Schlanger joined the JTED fray last year and has been promoting the idea ever since. There remains a pressing need for additional vocational funding throughout the county, he insisted.

Schlanger in the past has donated "basic stuff" such as oil and grease to automotive classes. In addition, students receive sporadic training from high school to high school, he said.

"There is no central authority for administering these programs," he said. "We're not getting the kids out of the schools with the training they need."

Mountain View's automotive technology classes have produced several winners at state competitions over the past few years. The teacher of many of those winners, Warren Lynn, retired before this school year, but not before stating his opposition to a JTED.

"Yeah, it looks good on paper," Lynn said. "But if we get involved in a larger school district with (TUSD), they might run the whole show."

About "98 percent" of the people he has briefed seem supportive, said Larry Williams, one of JTED's biggest supporters in Pima County. He recently explained the initiative to a group of five neighbors in the Northwest. It matters little how small the size of the group, he said.

"We tell them and then they talk to 10 other people and so on," Williams said.

If people get past the taxes, the proof is in the pudding, Raymond said, quoting from a recent report that found students in CTE classes faired better than other students on the AIMS test.

In MUSD, about 95 percent of CTE students met or exceeded the standards in math, reading and science compared with about 70 percent of other students.

JTED seems to have many supporters and few outspoken opponents. Around town, one can observe only "Vote Yes" signs. No opposition group has registered with the county.

Supporters tout surveys completed earlier in the year, which has the majority of parents and students claiming that existing vocational programs do not do enough to prepare teenagers for careers right out of high school. Conducted by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, the surveys also resulted in recommended JTED curriculum.

Possible programs include automotive technologies, pre-law, biotechnology, law enforcement and fire sciences, technical optics and drafting and design technology, in addition to several others.

"It's more than just about what programs are offered," Prather said. "It's a multiphase system, but we don't yet know exactly what it looks like."

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