School Budget Override Must Pass

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Sooner or later, it had to happen.

Despite encouraging signs from the governor's office, and a rah-rah state of education speech by the state superintendent of education, Arizona remains mired at the bottom when it comes to school funding.

The fact that our state ranks 48th out of 50 states, besting only Utah and New Mexico but below Mississippi and Alabama, is a disgrace. Worse, it's a head-in-the sand outrage.

What does it say about Arizona's priorities that we can blow millions of dollars on an ill-conceived alternative fuels vehicle fiasco at the same time we're telling our children they are valued less than the children in 47 other states?

Fortunately, in the midst of this gloomy situation, Rim country voters have the opportunity to distance themselves from a disoriented state legislature and to make a statement in the process. Tired of cutting programs, services and teachers, the Payson Unified School District board has requested that voters approve a budget override on May 18.

The board is asking voters to approve a 10-percent override for seven years, which would raise an estimated $1,242,032. The average taxpayer who lives in a house valued at $116,000 would see an annual tax increase of $63 if the override passes.

The bad news is that if we fail to pass the override, the quality of education in the Rim country -- currently well above state average according to test scores -- will begin a steady erosion that will be more difficult to reverse with each passing year. It will start by cutting 16 teachers and raising class sizes and by staffing school libraries with aides rather than qualified librarians.

The good news, and it's not all that good, is that by passing the override the status quo will be maintained and elementary school physical education -- a victim of budget cuts last year -- will be restored.

Unfortunately, a couple of issues are clouding the override election. Those issues are the board's recent decision to abandon the middle school concept in favor of a traditional junior high format and the creation of an alternative program aimed at the 10 percent of Rim country students who are at risk of dropping out.

Regardless of whether the override passes, RCMS will revert to a junior high school and an alternative school will be established -- although it will be a bare bones operation if voters say no.

There is much to debate about both of these issues, and the Roundup plans to provide readers with a balanced and comprehensive examination of each. But we can't let them obscure the very basic decision we must make on May 18.

Over half the school districts in Arizona have passed budget overrides. Now it's our turn to invest in our future. Whether you have children or grandchildren attending local schools, it is time to make a statement about what we, as a community, value.

We need to pass the budget override on May 18.

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