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The Tucson agenda

The want of money: Tanque Verde, Catalina Foothills school districts to discuss bonds, overrides

Teacher pay dominating school budget sessions across region

The Tanque Verde and Catalina school district governing boards will vote this week on a pair of November ballot questions aiming to raise more money.

During its Wednesday meeting, the Tanque Verde board will vote on whether to ask voters to continue with the 15 percent over ride approved by voters in 2018. The override would add $1 to the district's secondary property tax rate.

What would that cost? 

A quick primer on how property taxes work. According to the Pima County Assessor's Office, the median Northeast Side assessed value of a single family home runs $325,000. The override would add $1 per $100 to the tax assessment on that home. So the tax assessment is $3,250. Apply the 10 percent tax rate to that and we get $325.

It's a chunk of change that would allow the district to keep exceeding a state-set spending limit by $2 million on a $15.9 million operations budget.

Tanque Verde has a pretty good track record of getting overrides approved. Since 2000, the district has passed them in four out of five attempts.

The board will also discuss a couple of specific paths toward teachers getting some extra cash in their wallets. 

District staff are asking the board to agree to pay teachers up to $150 per day if they seek professional development over the summer. If teachers do part-time work toward their continuing educations, they would get paid $20 per hour.

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In a related item, Student Services is asking the district to spend $10,000 to pay $250 to 40 teachers who get Google certified — yes, people can get Google-certified.

They can either take a bootcamp class or just get the information themselves online and pass a test.

Cat Foot the bill

The Catalina Foothills board will vote on a  $38.5 million bond and get a presentation on a $2 million override at its Tuesday meeting.

District lawyers did the math on the bond and found that a $38.5 million bond would add $129 annually to the taxes on a $438,000 home in the district.

The district administration is recommending a seven-year override proposal be sent to voters in November. The St. Louis consulting firm Stifel Financial Corp. will present the tax and revenue scenario for a 13.3 percent beyond the state's "revenue control limit" for the district. Voters would have to approve spending beyond that amount. The override would maintain a $2 million override approved by voters in 2015 and set to expire one-third at a time over the next three years.

The new override would cost the homeowner of that $438,000 property about $273 per year in extra taxes.

The district staff is recommending the board move forward with the budget over ride.

Getting right with budgets

The action this week is almost exclusively in the school districts but the Pima County supervisors and Oro Valley Town Council are both holding two days of budget study sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I already advanced the supes meetings. The Oro Valley Council will conservatively — no doubt — discuss a conservative budget, which is probably fine in a conservative community.

I'm using "conservative" word for emphasis because Town Manager Mary Jacobs is projecting $12 million in excess general fund dollars. The town's neighbors in Tucson, Marana and Pima County are looking at some much large surpluses.

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Maybe there's something about Oro Valley that's just on a low-revenue part of geography.

The state Legislature used to project low revenues when needs were aplenty because lawmakers didn't want to start spending money. Those projections were usually called unreasonably low.

For Oro Valley, playing revenue skeptic is a pretty legit way of doing business. The town is light on public needs, so the council doesn't need to get aggressive in addressing social ills. If a bigger fund balance appears at the end of the year, then cool. If not, no one was counting on it.

Oro Valley's council has a policy of a reserve fund equal to 25 percent of the general fund expenditures. That's kinda high but not nutty. Jacobs is projecting a general fund balance of 27 percent of expenditures.

Jacobs does recommend spending $13 million in excess dollars on capital funding, primarily on road maintenance. The town staff is a recommending five more police officers (because God knows Oro Valley needs more of those) and expanded recreational programs at the Aquatic Center.

Another interesting factoid about Oro Valley's budget. When the first batch of COVID relief money came out of Washington, a major Republican talking point involved outrage that "Blue Cities" would use the windfall to pay off public employee pensions.

Oro Valley last year just dropped $27 million to pay off their public safety pension obligations. Sahuarita did the same thing. They didn't use federal coronavirus money to pay for it. But when you get to use $5.2 million in COVID relief money for capital improvements to the water system (as Oro Valley is planning to do), money can get freed up elsewhere. Inflation also improved revenues just because higher prices means more tax dollars coming into the town's treasury.

It was damned smart to get out from under the of long-term debt to the pension system. We're just caught somewhere between irony and hypocrisy. 

Pay for performance

The Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board will vote on whether to approve a new pay-for-performance plan.

This plan was put to a vote among those affected and received support of 588 qualified district employees and was opposed by just 20.

Remember that the next time someone accuses educators of standing in the way of performance-based raises.

Teachers would receive up to $4,400 for performance. Teachers could get up to $1,400 if they are qualified as "highly effective" — meaning they meet a series of standards outlined by the board.

They would get a tranche of $2,700 for developing and submitting a professional development plan and then up to $300 based on improvement of their students performance. That seems like it should be the other way around but ... OK. 

The board will also vote on whether to use coronavirus relief funds to pay for bus camera upgrades. The Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund was approved by Congress as part of the 2020 American Rescue Plan Act. What do bus cameras have to do with a lung infection? What does water on the Northwest Side have to do with coronavirus?

Mo' money, mo' money

Student behavior and school safety is on the agenda Tuesday for the Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board. 

It turns out, keeping students safe is a big deal after all as the district explains in a report to the board: 

"Since schools are responsible for maintaining safety and security in the district and work closely with the code of conduct on a daily basis, they have experience with applications of the code’s provisions and can provide invaluable insight about any necessary revisions."

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Question, will the notion of keeping kids safe at school inflame parents' and talk radio passions again?

Yes, schools are in the business of safety. In fact, the Legislature insists on it. 

The board will discuss and vote on whether to update its code of conduct and the consequences involved in violating it.

The board will also vote on a recommendation from the district's "Meet and Confer Committee" to fully fund any hypothetical state increase in teacher pay beyond the 2 percent it already improved.

If the Legislature, approves a 5-percent raise, the district would fill out the budget with the extra 3 percent.

The Vail Unified School District is dealing with something called "compression" as a result of minimum wage increases.

It's how raising the minimum wage can actually raise all wages. When the lower side of the salary bell curve moves forward, the whole shape of the curve changes (or compresses) as entry-level workers make wages closer to more experienced workers, who then get antsy for more pay.

The Vail board will discuss a number of ways to give more experienced teachers and staffers more money.

The same thing happens in the private sector. When the proverbial "burger-flipper" starts making as much higher-skilled workers (not that burger flipping isn't a skill) the more "elite" workers start demanding more money.

Amphi's board will also discuss student achievement under the auspices of a program they call "Raising Expectations." The idea is to reward students with ribbons, plaques and trophies depending on profiency test scores and requiring 12 hours of extra work in subjects where students are lagging.

Open government in draft form

The pandemic left a bunch of Tucson Unified School District students behind and struggling to catch up. 

The TUSD Governing Board will vote on expanding tutoring services with an extra $400,000 during its Tuesday meeting.

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Board members will also dive into the recurring theme of competitive wages as they approve a salary agreement with several unions, and a pay hike.

Details of each were not available, as the board released on Friday afternoon a "draft agenda" that included limited background material.

I've never heard of "draft agendas" before. I know this much. Public bodies don't get to "guesstimate" their agendas and sneak something onto it. Everything they vote on come Tuesday had best be posted 24 hours prior to the meeting. The TUSD board can't so much as call the roll if the roll call isn't properly posted a day before.

At the same time, there's no need to call an agenda a "draft agenda" because they can always be changed right up until that 24-hour mark. Heck, items can be removed once the meeting starts. 

Invisible contract

The Marana Unified School District board will vote on a new three-year contract for Superintendent Daniel Streeter. What are the terms of the contract? Does it included a retirement clause that he doesn't have to tell the board about? How much is he making?

The district staff didn't include the actual contract in the agenda (open and transparent government and all). The district did not respond Friday afternoon to requests the contract be disclosed.

I'll be following up because this is public information, whether the superintendent wants it to be or not.

Along these lines, the Sahuarita Unified School District's Governing Board agenda is up but largely lacking in information for the public to review. For instance, the board will discuss and, perhaps, approve new course loads for students.

What are those new course loads? They don't say.

The board doesn't meet until Wednesday and has until Tuesday to update its agenda. But as of Friday at 5 p.m., the agenda had virtually no background information.

Indoctrination alert

The Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board will be presenting a textbook for 60-day public review for all those parents who don't want their kids "indoctrinated." This one is McGraw Hill's "Inspire Physical Science" textbook.

The Legislature wants to make sure parents can review classroom materials to make sure kids aren't learning dangerous things at cross purposes with the Legislature's take on all possible human knowledge.

So beware. I did some digging and I don't think the science text teaches that witches weigh the same as ducks.  How do we know whom to burn?

And there may be some particle physics involved, which leads junior straight toward observable data proving climate change and that can only lead to wokewashing with discussion of solar radiation.

Then there are the four Advanced Placement textbooks up for approval at TUSD's "draft" meeting. These textbooks include two volumes on macroeconomics, which can lead to economic policy and the fast track to socialism. Human geography is another college-level class with a textbook up for approval. Human geography is more than just memorizing maps with borders and that leads to discussion of migration, which leads to replacement of Legacy Americans.

Remember, though, indoctrination always starts with particle physics.

I'm just providing a public service, here.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the Catalina Foothills Unified School District’s proposed override amount and the action the board will take. The district’s staff is recommending the $2 million annual override be sent to voters and the board is only scheduled to discuss the recommendation.

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Marco Verch | CC BY 2.0

The Catalina Foothills and Tanque Verde school boards will vote on sending ballot questions to voters seeking more money to operate and invest.

The Tucson agenda

Local public meetings this week:

Pima County Board of Supervisors

Oro Valley Town Council

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board

Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

Vail Unified School District Governing Board

Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board

Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board

Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board


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