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Catalina Foothills set to ask voters to re-up budget override

A quick look at what's planned for local gov't meetings: Tucson schools budget set for approval; Vail's Baker goes viral

Catalina Foothills voters are likely going to be in a position to decide whether to continue a 13 percent increase in school funding above the state expenditure limit.

The Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board will vote on whether to send a budget override question to voters on Nov. 8.

Once these kinds of questions get to the final vote, they are usually done deals. School boards and district staffs go through a process to get to get that decision. Squeamish boards kill stuff a lot earlier.

It's not technically an increase in tax rates but those rates will fall if the override is allowed to expire.

In that vein, a "yes" vote will cost the owner of a $438,000 residential property in the district about $273 per year in extra taxes.

Teachers collect, districts pay

The Tucson Unified School District Governing Board will vote on a final budget of $351 million — exactly the state constitutional limit.

The big winners are the staff because wages are going up in a tight labor market. Overall, the district will be spending $10 million more on salaries.

What this is means is that the district will be spending 69 percent of its budget on either classroom spending or educational support, which should count as such.

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More money for teachers means more money in the classrooms, folks.

The district will have — if this budget goes as planned — just 2 percent of its budget paying for administration.

Meanwhile, the TUSD board will vote on raising school lunch prices by 20 cents and school breakfast prices by 25 cents to keep up with rising prices. District lunches now cost $2.80 for high schools and middle schools and $2.30 for elementary schools. Breakfasts costs run $1.50 and $1.25 respectively.

The federal government is set to end expanded school meal subsidies because the new appropriations bill funding the program doesn't include that higher reimbursement.

Schools that qualify for free meals won't be affected.

The board will also vote on a $1 million contract for school milk to Phoenix-based Shamrock Farms. That oughta buy the first five quarts in 2022. How are they going to pay for the rest?

The district will also vote on approving the district's roster of certified hires. We are talking 189 pages of names.

What I find interesting is how Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo put it to the board. The agenda calls this vote "talent acquisition" as opposed to "hires."

The board will consider whether to review the district's benefits program.

Speaking of tight labor markets. In addition to all other shortages, the nation is apparently experiencing a need for school psychologists and TUSD is no different.

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A tight labor market may require changing the language to alter perception in all it's Orwellian glory.

The district staff is asking the board to approve University of Arizona psychology students to help fill the gap. The UA has a program supplying the Sunnyside Unified School District with psychology interns.

So the district is hoping to tap into it and pick up some interns and be ready to hire them once they graduate. The cost is only $3,500.

Then they are looking to Flagstaff and partner with Northern Arizona University for an even bigger $75,000 contract to fill in the gaps. NAU's program is approved by the National Association of School Psychologists.

The board will also consider $6 million contracts with a series of on-line firms providing the districts' cyber curriculum.

And finally the district will discuss hiring 5 new school safety officers. We continue to follow the gun lobby's demands that we respond to school shooting by a creating a police state.

Learning on the tubes

The Flowing Wells School District Governing Board will present plans to continue offering online courses.

I will forego my typical snark about "woke-i-fying" our children with long division. There are eight Arizona Revised Statutes and six provisions in the Arizona Administrative Code govern online learning.

It's clear from the law and public policy language related to online learning that state lawmakers know they probably should provide this service, but galshdarnit, it's not how they did things when they were in school.

There's more than a hint of "kids are trying to pull a fast one."

All of us born little bit of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens in us. Stevens famously tried to describe the internet as a "series of tubes." He was in his 80s and on his way to losing a race for re-election.

However, the pandemic did show online learning has its limits. And Stevens wasn't entirely wrong in a broader context.

The Vail method

In Vail, the legend of Calvin Baker is growing and spreading.

Baker was the Vail Unified School District superintendent during a period of extreme growth that coincided with academic achievement.

To be sure, Baker had an outstanding reputation in Arizona education circles. Vail routinely scored high on achievement, managed to direct a bunch of school money into the classroom that always passed muster with auditors.

Now, the district is exporting Baker's "Beyond Textbooks" approach to primary and secondary education.

Beyond Textbooks is how Vail has branded its approach to education and that system of teaching has been adopted by districts from Alaska to Wisconsin.

The basics could best be described as "Teaching to the Test-Plus." Beyond Textbooks website describes its methodology in two phases: First, identify what will be on statewide standardized testing and then present that information in a bigger conceptual context.

It's not rote memorization of the testable materials but it's not a whimsical frolic with the fairies either. Also, that seems kind of obvious. Is success really that simple?

It's worth pointing out that Vail is now dominated by suburban sprawl of Rita Ranch and the district isn't beset by some of the poverty challenges experienced by other districts. It's poverty rate is about a third that of the state as a whole.

So the trick to student achievement may just be "strong leadership without the fuss of poor people."

The program raises some money but district staff describes the amount as better than budget neutral. It's not a big haul.

Vail is pretty high on its approach and is willing to test its viability with other districts that do exist in more difficult environments.

 It may have been this: Cienega High School has an in-house rock band. I know this because some concerned citizen donated a Fractal Axe-Fx and MFC Foot Controller for the extracurricular group.

It's a $1,500 piece of equipment so... cool.

Rock is truly dead, if we are at the point where, no-account teenage hooligans are listening to Lizzo and need to be cultured by some Zeppelin riffs.

Hackers and champs

Amphi has security and championships on its agenda.

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing board will meet in private "executive session" to discuss school safety procedures and how to protect the district's critical infrastructure from cyber attacks.

Both have been in the news in recent weeks/years. The ever-increasing tolls of school shootings have prompted a bunch of talk about gun control and hardening schools as targets.

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Meanwhile, hackers from a certain country (I won't say which one, but it's Russia) have been holding industrial and governmental infrastructure hostage. Schools have been affected.

The board will also honor the Canyon Del Oro High School baseball team for its state championship. It will also give a collective "way to go" to the Ironwood Ridge boys track and field team and the CDO girls softball teams for ending their seasons as state runners-up.

Also, during the closed-door meeting, the board will discuss the performance of Superintendent Todd Jaeger.

OV budget

The Oro Valley Town Council will decide on whether to approve the 2022-23 budget. On June 1, the town locked in its $147 million spending cap when the council approved a tentative budget.

Oro Valley's proposed budget comes with a $98 million reserve left over from the current fiscal year. So the town is capable of spending almost $50 million more than it takes in and not get into trouble. The key is to spend the money on one-time or very short-term commitments.

The total spending planned for next year is $14 million less than Fiscal Year 2022-23. So they should be cool there. So no, the town doesn't have a deficit, regardless of what candidates for office might say in TV ads.

Town Manager Mary Jacobs is proposing a 10-year capital investment plan and some internal fund transfers. For instance, the town's Community Center Fund would transfer $2 million to the capital fund to pay for golf course irrigation. The Community Center Fund would still have $1 million in the bank for a rainy day.The council will also consider developing a plan to use untapped reclaimed water that the town is entitled to but isn't using.

This happens from time to time. In 2014, Pima County did the same thing. Reclaimed water is processed at regional plants around the region and Tucson, Oro Valley and the county are all entitled to a certain amount based on a 1979 agreement. Sometimes the governments don't use it all. Then they need to figure out what to do with that resource and they hire a consultant.

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.


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Catalina Foothills voters may be asked to re-up a budget override for schools in November.

The Tucson agenda

Public meetings this week

Oro Valley Town Council

Tuesday, 6 p.m.: regular meeting

Tucson Unified School District Governing Board

Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board

Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board

Vail Unified School District Governing Board

Catalina Foothills Unified School District Governing Board

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