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Sahuarita's mega surplus; TUSD needs auditors

The Tucson agenda

Sahuarita's mega surplus; TUSD needs auditors

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings

  • Sahuarita is sitting on a mountain of cash heading into the new fiscal year.
    401(K) 2013/2.0 licenseSahuarita is sitting on a mountain of cash heading into the new fiscal year.

The cavalcade of 2022-23 budgets continues as the Sahuarita and Nogales councils hold financial hearings, though with decidedly different approaches to public information.

Sahuarita's budget is online, neatly available for public perusal

The world will have to wait for the Nogales budget until the city council convenes. I'd give them some slack if the hearings started later in the week. Putting a budget together can be an ordeal. However, the council will start its budget hearing Monday at 9 a.m. A second meeting will be held Tuesday at the same time.

Sahuarita's $107 million budget is, shall we say, "flush." By that I mean for every dollar in tax revenue there are about 98 cents in surplus. So $53.8 million will be raised in taxes, grants and traditional revenue sources and $53.3 million comes from previous years' surpluses.

Oh, c'mon! Now, I know the political world loves "rainy day funds,' But this is borderline insane. They should seriously start thinking about going into the lending business. There reaches a point where just sitting on a cash reserve that big is fiduciary malpractice. I mean put it in treasuries or municipal bonds or something.

I'm kinda joking. There are strict regulations on how public money is spent, including arbitrage prohibitions (I'm absolutely no expert in them but I know they prohibit bond money from being reinvested). Plus there are school spending limits. I just find it odd that municipal budgets this year are sitting on mountains of cash, while Arizona schools rank 48th nationally in K-12 per-pupil funding.

The town actually has little choice but to park it, spend it or sit on it.

The budget projects only $62 million in expenditures, leaving a fund balance of close to $45 million to be "spent" on surplus for FY 2023-24. Then again, Sahuarita has a median income of more than $88,000 and a poverty rate about half of Arizona's. It's a low-crime, low-need town. 

What is the town going to do with the money? There are no big proposed changes in funding — now that the town is not going to condemn and build up its own water system. 

The council is also looking to replace the Town Attorney Daniel Hochuli, who has been discussing retirement for more than a year. He agreed to stay on until the council hired a new permanent town manager. Shane Dille has that gig now. Hochuli is ready to go.

The town council will also sit as their alter egos. Council members are also the oversight boards of both the Rancho Sahuarita and Quail Creek facilities district governing boards. They each have tentative budgets pending approval.

The Rancho Sahuarita facilities improvement district would get $20.6 million to spend next fiscal year while Quail Creek's district would be authorized to spend just over $1 million.

Audit absence

The Tucson Unified School District community audit board is at risk of becoming irrelevant. No, this isn't a bureaucratic power play. It's public apathy.

The TUSD audit committee has three openings. The remaining members are finding it hard to reach a quorum and haven't met since October 2021.

TUSD's Governing Board will discuss how to recruit for replacements and the continued "viability" of the citizens' audit team.

These citizen oversight boards are typically established because "gosh darnit, I want to know how my tax dollars are spent and anything else is balderdash!"

Translation: I want my neighbor to go sit on a citizen's audit committee because I've got better things to do.

Then again, the kind of person who wants to sit through audit board meetings is exactly the kind of person who (perhaps) shouldn't serve on an audit board.

So step up, or stop bitching, folks.

TUSD's board also has some interesting stuff on the agenda relating to students with disabilities.

State law requires students with disabilities be given special services to help them "transition" into high school and from high school to the job market. The district is ready to vote on a $794,000 contract with the state Department of Economic Security to provide those services. 

TUSD and the Joint Technical Education District are set to enter a $65,000 agreement to put qualifying students with disabilities into a program that will give them career counseling and internships at either the University of Arizona main campus or the University Medical Center Banner South.

There's also a $40,000 program to give students with disabilities access to UA classes. 

It's not just students with special needs who get this kind of deal.

The board is also set to consider an agreement with the University of Arizona to co-offer bioscience and biotechnology courses at Pueblo, Sabino, Santa Rita, Tucson and University high schools. The district will pay$51,750 to teach the college-level courses.

The sunny side of the job market

Recruitment and retention are on every local government's agenda in this tight labor market and the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a $1,000 signing bonus for employees who re-up for the next fiscal year.

This is years of terrible or non-existent raises finally catching up with towns, cities, counties and school districts.

The Sunnyside board is also set to vote on their master agreement with the Pima County JTED program.

The board will also open inspection windows for the textbook "Introduction to Criminal Justice." I'll reserve my usual snark about parent's capacity to analyze the subject matter in the textbooks assigned their kids. A white guy from Midtown will just leave alone insights on law enforcement on the South Side.

I can't do the same for a 60-day inspection of a textbook on emergency medical services. Any parent who gave their kid horse dewormer for COVID-19 should leave their opinions to themselves on acute care treatment.

Also, the Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board will vote on adoption of seventh and eighth-grade McGraw-Hill math textbooks during its Thursday meeting. I googled "McGraw Hill-Reveal Math and "Obamamath." Nothing came up. Phew.

Liberal Hollywood indoctrination threat level: "John Goodman."

The board will also discuss Superintendent Scott Hagerman's performance for review. No further information was provided (I would like to see his personal self-appraisal, for the rest of us who have ever had to write up one of those existential horror shows).

Will Lisa Taetle run everything?

The Catalina Foothills School District Governing Board will vote on accepting funds for the state's incentive-based program for teacher pay.

The state provides a pool of money districts can tap to pay 60 percent of bonuses, leaving the district with the remainder. They are divvied up based on student achievement that uses a complex form of metrics the state keeps changing.

Seriously, for a Legislature that has long declared the government that governs least, governs best, the state's lawmakers simply love micromanaging schools.

Board members will also decide on who gets to sign checks for the district. The winners are Superintendent Mary Kamerzell, Associate Superintendent Mary Jo Conery, Comptroller Sandra N. Thompson, and Finance Director Lisa Taetle. Taetle is also set to be named the district's official representative in all requests for proposals (the first part of the bid process) and as the emergency procurement director.

One might get the sense Taetle is making a move, and maybe we should get a jump on simply revering her as our eventual overlord. Maybe — and I'm just pretending to throw it to see if the dog watches — it's more likely that Taetle is cleaning up some loose ends to comply with even more state laws governing exactly how local schools are supposed to operate.

Kamerzell is also recommending the board adopt a policy allowing for the public use of school facilities for legal public use. A fee will be charged but can be waived for events that serve an educational purpose.

Light stuff and an 'incomplete'

The Amphitheater Unified School District will vote on hiring Tiffany Bucciarelli-Fay as the new director of early childhood education and Linda Roscoe Pekovac, as director of health services.

Kudos to Amphi on making the names public. Most districts simply say they are about to hire someone but won't name names. On the other hand, a wag of the finger to Amphi for failing to disclose the recommended salaries.

The board will also get an update on the student council activity accounts, which have $720,000in them districtwide.

Southwest Food Service Excellence, out of Scottsdale, has been recommended to act as vendor for the district, beating out Virginia-based ARAMAK Educational Services.

The Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board's agenda is so light, I get the chance to give a rare shout out to the Santa Cruz Valley Car Nuts. I'm hoping this is a group of auto enthusiasts and not lovers of truck nutz displayed in cars.  Whatever the case, it has donated $15,000 to Sahuarita High School automotive instruction.

Good for them, whatever their enthusiasms.

The Marana Unified School District Governing Board will meet Thursday to discuss "bond needs" and student curriculum.

No further information is available but they do have a few days to get more information up prior to the meeting.

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.

The Tucson agenda

Local public meetings this week:

Sahuarita Town Council 

Rancho Sahuarita Facilities District Governing Board

Quail Creek Facilities District Governing Board

Nogales City Council 

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board

Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board

Tanque Verde Unified School District Governing Board

Sahuarita Unified School District Governing Board

Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

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