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Voters Decide Fiscal Fate of Local Schools

October 7, 2009

PHOENIX - Early voting starts on Thursday in 89 Arizona school districts to decide the fate of several hundred million dollars in budget override and bond proposals. In some cases, new taxes would be levied; in others, existing bonds and overrides would be extended.

According to Tracey Benson of the Arizona School Boards Association, the money raised would help offset budget cuts at the state level.

"In Arizona, education is a partnership between state and local communities. These bonds and overrides really give local communities around the state the chance to vote with their hearts and their minds, and show that they are serious about investing in education."

Opponents argue that raising taxes in the current economy is too great a burden, but Benson points out that the bonds and overrides help schools cover some of the most basic education-related costs.

"Support for teacher salaries, keeping class sizes at reasonable levels, and also - and very importantly - maintaining and improving the school buildings to keep them safe, secure and suitable for learning."

State lawmakers cut $133 million from K-12 public schools in January, and now face a huge and growing shortfall in the current state budget. The budget pressures, as well as the likelihood of further cuts in state education spending, have produced an unusually high number of local ballot measures. Benson says there will be votes in 40 percent of Arizona's school districts, with a bond or override measure in every county in the state.

Arizona already ranks at or near the bottom among the states for per-pupil spending, adds Benson. Early voting continues until October 23; Election Day is November 3.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ