Will Proposition 123 Influence Arizona Voters On School Bonds, Overrides This Election?
Twenty school districts in the county have bonds or overrides up for a vote this year, an effort to counteract huge cuts to education funding from the Arizona Legislature since 2009.
The Pendergast Elementary School District serving west Phoenix and some West Valley cities is one of them. Eighth-grade volunteers list their latest efforts to parents and community members at a school-sponsored breakfast. Then, school officials gave a presentation on the bond up.
It’s a $59 million bond that would be used for building maintenance, new school buses, classroom additions and technology.
Community member Steven Feldman came to the Pendergast presentation and was undecided before he learned more about it.
“And I was undecided because I don’t want to see the students suffer because of what the administration does or doesn’t do," Feldman said.
He also doesn’t think the district is being completely honest about the funding, a feeling he said is shared by people like him — older, retired and with no children in school.
Glendale parent Justine Clure understands where that leery feeling comes from.
“Previous administration was just a longstanding reign, it was just kind of, 'push it at the minimal passing rate,' it was focused not so much on growth for the individual students,” she said.
But now she has children in the schools, and to her, reaching out to the longstanding members of the community is essential to creating more awareness of where the Pendergast district is today.
“This district is about the kids, and not about anything else but them," Clure said. "So we’ve been able to help get people on our side.”
Clure was the one who invited Feldman to learn more about the bond because she found him opposing it online. Now, he’s decided to vote yes on the bond but only reluctantly: he doesn’t think the schools’ performance is up to par.
Chuck Essigs with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials said polls show voters like Feldman feel that schools need more money, even after Arizonans passed Proposition 123.
“About 74 percent of the citizens believe that funding for schools was inadequate and additional money was needed. So hopefully that’s a positive sign,” Essigs said.
In the general election, recent polls show Arizona voters consider education a top priority to be addressed by the next president.
Proposition 123 gives $3.5 billion state back to the schools over 10 years and only passed by a very narrow margin.
“It was only the first step of many steps that need to be made to make capital and operational funding in Arizona more adequate," Essigs said. "So I’m pretty optimistic that the voters have gotten that message.”
But not all voters understand that.
Jeffrey Stachmus, a parent in Tolleson Union High School District which also has an override on the ballot, heard some of his peers are confused by the difference between Proposition 123 money and potential override money.
“They think they’re one and the same," Stachmus said. "They think the override is maybe an extension of 123."
Proposition 123 money comes from state coffers in a settlement to districts — bond and override funding comes from local property taxes.
Statchmus, whose daughter just graduated from the district, thinks the override is worth the tax increase.
“It’s important that we continue to support our schools whether we have children in them that are coming up, current students or former students" he said. "The strength of our schools will strengthen our communities, businesses and neighborhoods.”
Stachmus, like Pendergast parent Justine Clure, has been active in getting the word out to clear up any confusion on bonds, overrides and school funding and school spending. And he hopes the community is listening.