So, let’s say you’re lounging around at the beach: Everyone’s chill, smelling of sunscreen. Sunny day, bro. Sunny day.
Suddenly your first-grader cries, “Look, Mommy, the ocean’s leaving!”
You get up, shade your eyes and notice that the tide’s going out. Fast. Real fast. Fish flopping around on the beach. The starfish are looking all beached and pointy.
What do you do?
Let’s say, for instance, you’re on the school board — maybe running for the job. So you know something about children and tidal waves. So you realize that the mysterious withdrawal of the ocean means there’s a tidal wave on the way.
Tell everyone not to worry.
Go collect starfish
Run up and down the beach screaming: Run, tidal wave!!!
Well, the tidal wave’s coming in the form of the November school property tax override vote.
The school board last week agreed on language that will appear on the November ballot, politely urging people to vote for the override.
If voters approve the measure, the present property tax surcharge will remain in place — producing about $1.2 million annually for Payson schools. If voters reject the measure, they’ll save a little on their annual property tax bills and the struggling district will have to impose another round of deep budget cuts.
The school board debated whether to raise their rhetorical voices to call attention to the threat. At least one school board candidate, incredibly enough, seems ready to campaign against the override.
Mind you, Arizona remains dead last in per-student funding — and the Legislature made deeper cuts here than anywhere else in the country during the recession. The Legislature has flagrantly and illegally ignored repeated voter-approved propositions intended to protect school funding.
As a result of the state’s abject failure to meet the needs of our children, schools have been cutting back for the past four years. Payson had to close Frontier Elementary School, lay off teachers, cut support staff, freeze salaries, limit vocational and advanced classes and rely on fundraising and fees to sustain most of the extracurricular programs. Class sizes have risen sharply — especially in elementary schools where small classes yield the greatest benefit.
To make up the $1.2 million the district will lose if the voters don’t approve the override, it would have to cut 24 teachers — which would increase class sizes by another 20 or 25 percent. Alternatively, the district could eliminate all extracurricular programs — including sports, music, art and drama. This would impoverish the education of our children, increase dropout rates, reduce public support and involvement in our schools, waste the talent and passion of our children
In short, we face a disaster should the board and the parents and anyone who cares about this community fail to make their case to voters.
Mind you, similar override votes have failed in communities across the state. That’s because the state relies too heavily on property taxes to support schools, fire districts, counties, community colleges and other vital services. Communities like Payson with many retirees on fixed incomes must rely on the willingness of people who have worked their whole lives and supported their own children to pay burdensome income tax bills to support schools now.
Fortunately, this community has a generous heart. We have always supported our schools — and repeatedly approved this vital school override. We’re confident that the beloved community will once more come to the rescue of our schools, despite the shameful neglect of the Legislature.
Still, the water has drawn away from shore.
The sight of the suddenly exposed seabottom has a terrible fascination.
This is no time to stand, mute and calm — watching the wave build out to sea.
Our schools are in danger! We must protect the children!
That’s what the ballot language should say.
Tidal wave coming! Tidal wave coming!