More Foolish Cuts For Education?

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Whittle

Whittle.

Hack.

Chop.

Whittle.

Whittle

Alas: That’s the sound of what passes for leadership on education down at the Arizona Legislature — with a little help from Gov. Jan Brewer. Once more, teachers and students at the Payson Unified School District must brace for big cuts as the Legislature and the governor continue to wrangle about the choice between bad and worse.

Last year, the Legislature cut about $450 million from K-12 schools and nearly $200 million from the universities.

The result: elementary school class sizes in Payson jumped by 20 to 30 percent and university tuition shot up to nearly $10,000 annually. Mind you, Arizona already ranked close to dead last in per-student funding nationwide.

This year, Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a $9.2 billion budget, about $400 million higher than the revenue estimates produced by the legislative staff. Brewer’s proposed budget devotes $106 million to buying back leased state buildings, earmarks $300 million for a rainy day fund, sweeps another $182 million from various separate state funds and cuts yet another $82 million from K-12 education.

The Republican legislative negotiators have so far kept the details of their budget plan a deep, dark secret, but say they want to avoid fund sweeps — which suggests they’ll need to whack nearly $600 million more than the governor has proposed.

That’s bad news for schools — and therefore for all of us. Our future depends on bolstering our battered public education system, not bragging on the ever-more-crippling spending cuts.

Much of the problem stems from the imminent expiration of a temporary one-cent increase in the sales tax. That tax raises $900 million annually and averted even more drastic cuts in school budgets this year.

Advocates for education are gathering signatures to extend that sales tax hike for as much as a decade and devote the money raised to education. Granted, the sales tax remains the most volatile and regressive way to raise needed revenue. But voters may have to take some such painful measure, given the Legislature’s shocking abandonment of the state’s struggling public schools.

In the meantime, we let your lawmakers know we must build, not hack, heal, not whittle — starting with support for our children.

Good things will grow

Plant a seed.

Watch it grow.

Thank goodness, we live in a town full of people who believe that oaks all start as acorns — and we’re all in this together.

How else can you account for the marvelous way people have come together to start work on a community garden?

Chronic do-gooder Roger Kreimeyer planted the seed, when he faced the challenge of raising money and food to support Rim Country’s struggling food banks. The food banks used to count on overflow donations from the Valley to meet the need here. But as the downturn lingered, Valley food banks found they had no overflow — just as Rim Country food banks faced record need.

The community had responded in a full-hearted way for three years now, to keep the food banks afloat.

But Kreimeyer has a brainstorm: Why not start a community garden, in hopes that the citizen farmers would donate fresh fruits and vegetables to food banks?

You’d think that folks who had just finished collecting $65,000 pounds of food for the most successful food drive yet would have wanted to sit in a lawn chair on the banks of the East Verde and rest on their laurels.

Instead, many rallied to the next good cause.

The seed sprouted almost immediately.

Organizers quickly found an empty tract of land just east of the Payson First Church of the Nazarene off Tyler Parkway sufficient to provide about 100 plots, each eight feet wide and 15 feet long. Next, Gila County agreed to donate fencing, to keep the critters out. Then contractor Roy Haught volunteered to turn over the soil to get it ready.

Now, organizers need someone willing to donate irrigation piping.

In the meantime, they’re hoping to recruit 100 gardeners willing to pay $50 each for a plot of land they can turn into a vegetable garden that will cut their grocery bills and green up their diets this summer.

So contact Joann Roethlein, (928) 474-3766, to reserve your plot. Because here in Rim Country — we believe in planting seeds and looking out for one another.

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