Well, we survived 2011 — by most measures the worst of times, to quote Charles Dickens. But we’ve got a buoyant feeling that 2012 will not only be a better year — it’ll set records.
Mostly, that’s because the tireless advocates for this community have made such heartening progress on two projects essential to our future: The Blue Ridge pipeline and an Arizona State University campus.
Construction on the $30 million pipeline should begin in a few months, now that the appeals period on the environmental assessment has passed uneventfully. A nearly year-long delay in approving that draft environmental assessment caused a lot of heartburn — but everything ended happily.
So Rim Country has secured enough water to provide for all its planned future growth — including the transformative construction of a 6,000-student university.
That project had to fight for traction as the year ended in a flurry of storms. The Gila Community College board forced what we hope will prove the final delay by attempting to attach some last-minute conditions to the sale by the county of 21 acres for the 1,000-student first phase of the campus.
Fortunately, the supervisors skirted the worst of those conditions and voted to proceed with the sale. The needless scramble likely forced a three-month delay in putting the ASU campus plan before the Board of Regents, but hopefully it won’t delay the planned fall of 2013 opening.
Meanwhile, the campus backers are drawing up the final intergovernmental agreement with ASU, which will provide the university with a rent-free phase one so it can offer students a deep discount on tuition.
If all goes as planned, the Rim Country Educational Alliance will finalize the purchase of 21 acres from the county in January and the Board of Regents will approve the agreement in February.
In that case, this spring we should see the start of construction on both the $30 million pipeline and the $30 million first phase of the campus, a boon to the moribund construction industry that once propped up Rim Country’s economy.
Hopefully, that will trigger additional private investment in the community — including several subdivisions approved before the collapse but stalled by investors’ fears they couldn’t sell the homes they built.
Combined with heartening signs of state and national economic improvements, give solid basis for hope in the new year.
It may even turn out to be the best of times yet.
School financing still bewildering
Back in the Middle Ages, priests talked to God in Latin and all the poor peasants cowered in the back of the church, wondering what they were saying. Well, every time we take a run at understanding school finances, we end up cowering in the back of the church, wondering what they’re saying.
Payson’s initially encouraging, ultimately confusing $200,000 in extra “spending authority” offers a discouraging case in point.
Turns out, the school district adopted its $13.8 million operating budget in June based on prayers in Latin rather than hard numbers.
The district must adopt a budget and start spending money long before it knows for sure how much money it will get from the state and how much money it really has left to spend at the end of the year. The state doesn’t provide final numbers until December — six months into the fiscal year, according to district officials.
This year, everything worked out — more or less. The district spent $200,000 less than it initially guesstimated — in part because teachers either called in sick less often or covered for one another, eliminating the need to pay a substitute teacher.
Good news, right?
Well, not really — at least not for the district struggling to cope with rising class sizes, layoffs, elimination of funding for textbooks and some vocational programs, school closures and reductions in teacher incentive pay for extra training.
The state has complicated overlapping formulas intended to equalize school funding. As a result, districts remain hostages of the state and a $200,000 increase in “spending authority” doesn’t actually result in any more money for school programs.
The Rube Goldberg system of school financing under the control of an increasingly indifferent Legislature demonstrates the need to get back to fundamentals when it comes to school reform.
The Legislature must quit piling on intricate requirements and formulas and focus on empowering classroom teachers, principals and school boards.
We’ve had enough pious absurdities couched in the Latin of arcane school funding formulas. Stupid is as stupid does — even if it’s phrased in Latin.