Superintendent Doug Wilson isn't allowed to advocate for the 15 percent override question being placed before voters in the Marana Unified School District this Tuesday, March 9.
School officials can't urge people to vote "yes" on the question, which would generate another $3.1 million from secondary property taxes for the next seven years.
We can urge voters to say "yes," and we will. Your parents and grandparents paid taxes so you could have a better education. It's time to pass that gift along.
Arizona's school funding situation is, among many things, convoluted, complicated, controversial … and a target. Make no mistake — when state government has these kinds of deficits, and K-12 education consumes more than 40 percent of the dollars, school funding is going to be cut. It becomes a question of how much, and what services are impacted.
Say what you will about this Arizona Legislature … and you will say it. Wilson takes a broader, impassioned, longer-term view, as a superintendent of a district with 13,000 students and 1,800 employees, and as the father of a 7-year-old.
"I'm concerned about the direction this state is headed," Wilson said. "At some point in time, we have got to figure out how to have some substantial revenue in this state to support education."
When Wilson goes to conferences, and tells superintendents from other states the size of his district and its annual budget, they're shocked. Arizona doesn't spend as much as other states do to teach children. And the pie is shrinking.
That's where the override fits in — our words, not his. If MUSD voters approve this tax, the district gets another $3.1 million a year to work with, a sum that won't cure all, but may soften the blow of reduced state funding, and may allow the district to pursue its objectives of small class sizes, full-day kindergarten, and "programs that support student success," such as extracurricular activities.
All across this country, school patrons talk about the ideal of "local control." Well, there's less and less local control these days. But the override is a symbolic commitment in that direction.
If the district's assessed valuation stabilizes, and begins to rise, and as MUSD reduces and retires its bonded indebtedness, the additional secondary property tax may be paid from debt service funds, and not directly from the pockets of taxpayers. That's a sure bet the first year of the higher override, less certain moving forward. If voters have faith in the future of the economy, and the community, they'll take the bet.
It's a pretty sure bet that state funding for Marana schools, and those across Arizona, is going to be reduced in the years ahead. Full-day kindergarten, demonstrated to be of real value for children, is imperiled. Cut that? Impair our kids' abilities to read at a young age? Is that what Arizona wants to do?
"I'm hoping the community of Arizona shows they care about education," Wilson said. "I can't imagine these kinds of draconian cuts without some sort of an uprising. It would be an indicator to leadership, that's not what we want as a state."
No, it's not. But local communities have to demonstrate a commitment of their own hard-earned dollars toward education. A favorable override vote sends exactly that message.