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Fimbres: Education key to success but Prop. 204 not the right answer

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Fimbres: Education key to success but Prop. 204 not the right answer

Everyone agrees that early childhood education and care is important for young children from the ages of birth up to five years, when the brain is rapidly developing.

The efforts this year on the ballot measure known as Proposition 204 are admirable, but the language in this proposition raised concerns for me, for future mayor and Councils and for the good citizens of Tucson.

Prop.  204 does not state which schools would qualify for the program and the schools even have to be within city limits, be public, private or charter or sets out the definition for "high quality preschools."

Prop.  204 does not state how children are selected, the amount of the voucher or the amount of the pre-school education tuition and there are no reporting requirements on whether the program is succeeding.

Prop. 204 states that it would be a half-cent addition to the city sales tax with no sunset date. Meaning this could bring in more than $50 million dollars annually, of which under Prop.  204, eight percent, or $4 million dollars would be used for "administrative expenses," which is not defined in the ballot language.

Another concern about Prop. 204 asks the voters to approve something with no specifics and to be trustful, that the details would come if the ballot measure passes.

In May this year, Tucson voters approved Prop. 101, the half-cent sales tax measure to go towards police, fire and roads. There was a specific list of items for our police department and fire department, and also laid out a map of roads to be worked on. Prop. 101 required citizen oversight of both public safety expenditures, as well as for the road work and to report on the progress to mayor and Council and the citizens of Tucson. The ballot language did not allow for funding to be swept or moved to other projects and the additional sales tax would last for only five years.

Voters by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin approved Prop. 101, carrying in all six wards. The good citizens saw all the work that had been done with the roads under Prop. 409 Road Bond Monies and the tightly written language for Prop. 101. Unfortunately, Prop. 204 did not follow the good example set by Prop. 101.

Prop. 204 would have the Tucson mayor and Council create a seven-member commission that would decide the criteria for "high quality preschools," eligibility for the children, program reporting requirements, voucher amounts and hire a non-profit organization to oversee and operate the program.

Tucson's mayor and Council has created many boards and commissions, but there are none currently that would have the scope or power this proposed commission would have, as well as overseeing an educational outlet, something the city of Tucson does not have direct purview in its Charter.

What would be the criteria or guidelines to select a non-profit organization to spend $42 million? Prop. 204 does not spell the criteria out.

What would be the accountability of the seven member commission created if Prop. 204 would be approved? It would be up to the respective councilmember or Mayor to keep or remove an appointee or change through the election process for the Mayor or councilmember.

Voters across Tucson will also be considering school bond or budget override measures for the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD), as well as the Flowing Wells School District (FWSD). These measures were crafted by individuals with educational backgrounds and warrant review and consideration. These districts work within the parameters of Article 11 of the Arizona Constitution, as governing boards as provided by law and put these proposals for their voters to consider. Voters in school districts can hold their board members accountable and remove them in elections or the recall process.

Prop. 204 will appear on the ballot alongside the TUSD ballot measure, as well as Sunnyside's override and Flowing Well's proposal. There is a problem of voter confusion, since TUSD is compromised of an area completely within Tucson city limits, while Sunnyside has two-thirds of its district within city limits and roughly half of Flowing Wells School District is within the city of Tucson. This could affect these school districts proposals with some residents voting on Proposition 204 and others not because of their residence.

Any tax proposal on a ballot for voter review and consideration should have a time review clause or sunset date. Any measure's ballot language should be specific in its intentions and purpose. Prop. 204 does not do that and leaves out the education professionals as part of the proposed program and process.

Education is the key to success but Prop. 204 is not the right answer.

Fimbres commentary on Prop. 204 sent from city email

This opinion piece by City Councilman Richard Fimbres opposing the Strong Start Tucson measure was sent to via a city email system, raising questions about whether such a move amounted to electioneering with public resources.

It was sent Friday afternoon by Mark Kerr, Fimbres' chief of staff, using a government email address.

State law, and city of Tucson policies, bar using public resources to influence the outcome of an election. That prohibition includes email systems.

Questioned about the email, Kerr said that the Ward 5 office has been receiving numerous phone calls and emails about Strong Start Tucson, inquiring about Fimbres' stance on the measure.

"Because of the legal restrictions regarding 'electioneering,' Councilmember Fimbres and his staff have been careful not to use the resources of the office to put out messages to constituents who either call or email about Prop. 204 or other matters on the ballot," Kerr said.

The email from Fimbres' office may be a technical violation, but appears to be more a simple email flub than an intentional abuse. The email was sent individually to, rather than being distributed to a mailing list.

Kerr correctly noted that elected officials are perfectly free to express opinions about propositions and other election issues such as Prop. 204.

Fimbres "felt it was important to express his thoughts through a written opinion that expresses his concerns and attempts to answer the questions that have been posed to him about the ballot measure," Kerr said in an email (sent from his personal account). "The city attorney has previously advised CM Fimbres and the other members of the governing body that each of them are free to express their individual opinions and concerns about ballot measures, so long as they speak for themselves individually and do not expend city resources in the process."

City Attorney Mike Rankin "has advised me that I should have sent you the op-ed paper from my personal email account, or from another non-city account, to avoid any potential issue, real or perceived, relating to the use of city resources in connection with a ballot measure," Kerr said.

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