Vote on the optional 1 percent sales tax May 18, the Arizona Education Network urged an audience at Mountain View High School.

"We're not here to tell you how to vote, that is your decision," said Lisa Ferko, a Harelson Elementary School parent and one of the founders of AEN.

Vote again on Aug. 24, when Arizonans make primary election decisions on the Legislature, the governor's race and the U.S. Congress. Vote a third time on Nov. 2, when Arizonans make final selections for state, national and local offices, among them school boards, the group urged.

"We don't have to let other people make decisions for us," said Melissa Megna, another AEN co-founder. Megna said people ages 18-45 represent two-thirds of the state's pool of potential voters, yet that age group sends one-third of Arizona's voters to the polls.

AEN co-sponsored a Wednesday budget forum at Mountain View High School with the Marana Foundation for Educational Excellence. The Arizona Education Network has put on a number of similar forums across the state.

"We're parents, we're members of the community concerned about Arizona's funding" for education, Ferko said. "We went in search of facts. Our priority is to provide facts to other people."

Among the facts it found — Arizona's budget deficit as a percentage of its general fund "is one of the largest" in the nation, Megna said. The three-year 1 percent sales tax is "the only revenue option on the table."

The state's K-12 funding is $6,248 per pupil, Megna said. "The national average is $9,389."

AEN has posted relevant information on its website,

"An informed electorate is really very, very important in order to save our state," MUSD Superintendent Dr. Doug Wilson told the gathering of parents and staff.

"As a state, what I hope, some way or another, and nothing to do with May 18 … I hope the students we're entrusted with right now will be able to say they've accomplished great things because they stood on our shoulders," Wilson said. "Tell our educators how important they are."

Wilson, who detailed for the group Marana's budgeting story the last two years, said his district will "continue to find a way." He lauded the "professionalism" of Marana's staff in the face of reductions.

"They still believe in their mission," Wilson said. "They nurture their heads, they nurture their hearts. Our vision is still the same, and it has not changed."

But, as a district, "creating money is impossible."

MUSD's 15 percent secondary property tax override was defeated in decisive fashion by district voters in March. The verdict was 57.4-42.56 percent against the measure. A significant number of voters in March were "people in this community who don't have children in schools," Wilson said.

"I'll take some of the responsibility" for the loss, Wilson said. "We, the district, didn't do a good job articulating the importance of it.

"I implore you to make sure that whatever you decide, one way or another, be sure it is an informed decision," Wilson said. "Exercise your right to vote."

In the March election, 23.8 percent — 10,855 people — of the district's 45,554 registered voters cast ballots.

"We need to hear what the voice of the community is," Wilson said. "I'm not sure the voice of 10,000 people is the voice of the community."

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