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Fri, Aug. 23

Letters to the Editor

Merrill on one-man

campaign about Prop 301

Editor:

Art Merrill seems to be on a one-man campaign of unhappiness about Proposition 301 and its attendant legislation Senate Bill 1007.

Residents living in the Humboldt Unified School District are entitled to fair and accurate reporting. In this case, I don't believe they got it.

Two points should be made. First, the public and teachers were not duped into approving Prop 301. Second, after a decade of underfunding, Prop 301 gives public education the financial tools it needs to improve learning, teaching, buildings and accountability measures. And that's good for all Arizonans.

From day one, Gov. Jane Hull, the Education 2000 campaign, the Arizona Education Association and the Humboldt Education Association were explicitly clear on how much money would be raised, how it would be allocated from kindergarten to college and what accountability measures would safeguard the process.

In addition to extensive media coverage, two state government websites carried detailed information about this education funding initiative. The Arizona Legislative Information System (www.azleg.state.az.us/) printed Senate Bill 1007 word for word. The Secretary of State's website (www.sosaz.com) printed Prop 301 word verbatim.

If Mr. Merrill had researched the proposition or bothered to interview AEA or HEA officials, he would have known the specifics of Prop 301. On election day, 53 percent of Arizona voters approved Prop 301. If Mr. Merrill objects to specifics in Prop 301, why not offer positive solutions rather than criticism?

Of the $445 million Prop 301 is expected to raise, about 80 percent goes toward elementary and secondary education. Of that, $262 million is reserved solely for the Classroom Site Fund, which includes salary increases and school program improvements.

Prop 301 also provides revenues for Students First to repair and upgrade aging schools as required by law. If these dollars weren't available the money would have to come out of the general fund. Prop 301 revenues also create an additional day of school for each of the next five years so eventually students will be in school 180 days a year instead of 175 as they are now.

Other K-12 revenues will go for safety programs, character education, tutoring grants, low-income tax credits and a student accountability and information system. Mr. Merrill may disagree with appropriateness of these expenditures but all this information was available during the Special Session and campaign.

In HUSD, our share of the Classroom Site Fund will be somewhere around $1.25 million dollars. Of this, $250,000 goes to base salary increases and $500,000 for performance-based pay incentives. The remaining $500,000 coming to HUSD can be used in a variety of areas - including salaries, class sizes, drop-out prevention and AIMs intervention. Mr. Merrill questions if this is enough to keep, or attract, teachers. It's a fair question.

Last year, HUSD needed 19 teachers due to retirement and new positions. We eventually had to hire more twice that number because of teachers who left our district for greener pastures. Hopefully, the salary increase will encourage more individuals to enter the profession and stay longer. We want experienced teachers in the classroom, particularly those who have demonstrated performance. Students benefit from their expertise.

While there are concerns about how performance-based pay and the Local Education Accountability Program, or LEAP, are put into action, we're willing to working collaboratively to resolve those issues.

Teachers, administrators, school board members, parents, the business community and elected leaders formed an alliance to secure the passage of Prop. 301. We will continue our working relationship to improve education quality.

Sincerely,

David A. Newman, President

Humboldt Education Association

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