The nine contending candidates for the three slots on the Payson School Board clashed sharply this week on whether Proposition 204’s billion-dollar sales tax for education will help or hurt struggling schools.
The proposition would make permanent a one-cent addition to the state sales tax and earmark the bulk of the money for K-12 schools, universities and highway construction, while setting a minimum level of state support for schools.
At the Oct. 15 Payson High School (PHS) Key Club forum, the candidates broke into three camps, one block supporting the initiative, one coming out against it — and one candidate who stepped outside the box.
“We are last in the U.S. at state funding per student,” said James Quinlan, former chair of the PHS English department and now Gila Community College English teacher. When it comes to student achievement, “We’re 25th in math, 21st in science and 15th in reading. Why accept mediocrity? This funding is necessary.”
Quinlan has joined with former PHS social studies teacher Ron Silverman and Payson Tea Party president Jim Muhr to form a slate.
Silverman and Muhr both oppose the proposition.
“There are a lot of misconceptions (about Prop 204),” Silverman said. “It will take the place of money coming out of the general fund. I’m not in favor…education will lose funding regardless if it passes.”
Backers put the proposition on the ballot out of frustration after the Legislature cut $2 billion from state education funding despite previous voter approval of the temporary sales tax. This time, the proposition includes language that would prevent the Legislature from lower per-student support.
Although Muhr could not attend Monday’s forum, he had earlier indicated his opposition to the initiative.
Proposition 204 would make permanent the voter-approved one-cent sales tax already in place. Backers of the original measure objected when the Legislature used the prospect of the expiration of the existing tax next year as the reason it banked nearly $1 billion as a surplus and in a rainy day fund this year.
Outraged at the way the Legislature handled the one-cent sales tax dollars, a group of parents joined forces to write Prop. 204.
Armed with a recent non-partisan study that reported Arizona has made the deepest proportionate cuts to education of any state while at the same time sits at the bottom of the barrel in per student spending, the parents felt this proposition would solve the problem.
The backers stirred up a maelstrom because of the proposition’s reliance on an open-ended increase in the sales tax and the provisions that prove for future inflation funding while tying the Legislature’s hands in a future budget crisis.
The sharp differences between the Payson school board candidates on the measure provided voters with a window into how they think and how they would approach complicated issues.
The Key Club students asked how the candidates would compensate for the shortfall in budget dollars if the measure fails.
Leave it to kids to ask the tough questions.
Shirley Dye, the vice-president of the Payson Tea Party, a grandmother and volunteer at her church, fell into the ‘opposed to the proposition’ group.
“I have done some research,” she said. “If 204 fails, the belief that funding will decrease is false.”
Dye would rather vote for Propositions 118 and 120, because she believes those initiatives will produce more money for education after the state takes control of federal land and sells off large tracts.
Gerald Rutz, a retired math teacher from Scottsdale, also opposes Proposition 204. “I don’t believe in sales taxes,” he said. “The Legislature is not good at keeping promises.”
Devin Wala and Lynette Brouwer, both parents of students currently in the Payson school system, did not commit to voting for or against the proposition. Rather, they agreed the board will have to get creative about funding whether the initiative passes or not.
“Whether it passes or not, we are in trouble,” said Brouwer. “We can create business and public partnerships.”
“We’ll have to look at creative solutions,” said Wala.
Barbara Underwood and retired teacher Carmelita Locke both support Proposition 204 as a way to bolster school funding.
“With declining enrollment and other decreases, we have to look at other funding sources,” said Underwood. “It is serious and I do support 204.”
“What do we do without it? I don’t know,” said Locke. “We will have another financial crisis,” she concluded.