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Mon, Sept. 23

Top Stories of 2013 - #5: Voters reject school district bond, budget override measures

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>Humboldt Unified School District Director of Human Resources Dan Streeter, at left, and other public education supporters look on in dismay at the results of the Nov. 5 vote on a bond override for the district.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>Humboldt Unified School District Director of Human Resources Dan Streeter, at left, and other public education supporters look on in dismay at the results of the Nov. 5 vote on a bond override for the district.

Citizens Tax Committee President John Stevens described it as a "David and Goliath" battle.

As in that biblical underdog story, Stevens felt dwarfed both in terms of spending and manpower during November's Prescott Unified School District bond and override election. Voters ultimately sided with the Citizens Tax Committee to defeat the measures.

Stevens cited the size of the proposed PUSD spending plan as part of the reason why it failed.

"The school district needs to go back to the drawing board and rework some of that. We definitely want to be a part of that process in a helpful and constructive way," Stevens said.

"I don't know that we really persuaded a lot of people, but what we did was make it OK to question this particular (request). Everybody is loaded up with taxes, from every angle, of every kind."

At the outset of the Citizens Tax Committee's effort to convince voters to say no to the bond and override request, Stevens said organizers realized they were underdogs in the political fight.

"I think the proponents for the override fully expected to prevail," he said. "The old way of thinking, of brick and mortar schools being the only way to educate kids, that's just not the case anymore."

Officials in the Prescott Unified School District said they currently have no plans to seek a new bond or override for Prescott schools following last November's election.

As with PUSD, voters denied a bond request from the Chino Valley Unified School District and an override request from the Humboldt Unified School District.

According to updated, unofficial election results from the Yavapai County Elections Office, 53.4 percent of the votes were against the PUSD's proposed $28 million bond - with 10,126 no votes and 8,830 votes in favor.

More than 57 percent of voters went against the PUSD request for a $2.3 million budget override - with 10,026 voting no and 7,411 voting in favor of the budget increase.

"We have not made any decisions regarding any action we might take in the future regarding bonds or overrides," PUSD Superintendent Dave Smucker said.

Should a new proposal go before voters, Stevens said the Citizens Tax Committee wouldn't outright oppose it.

"We would look at it then. The Citizens Tax Committee is not against any and all taxes no matter what," Stevens said. "We recognize you have to have some taxes to provide basic services and all that kind of stuff; it's just this is not the time to draw up a Cadillac plan. We're driving Chevys, the guys that are paying the bills. I wouldn't be surprised if, in a year or two, they will be back. We really hope it's a better-designed plan."

Outdated technology, safety concerns, building repairs and aging school vehicles were among the issues schools officials hoped to tackle had voters approved their request for a $28 million bond

Along with that, school programs also are at risk of being cut, which led to the district's request for a $2.3 million budget override. Those funds, according to school officials, would have been used to pay for state funding shortfalls and to keep and maintain quality staff, following a year in which dozens of educators resigned and accepted positions in other areas.

In the CVUSD, just over 55 percent of the votes went against the district's proposed $9.9 million bond - 2,936 said no, while 2,389 voted yes.

CVUSD sought the $9.9 million bond for needed school security and technology upgrades, improvements to the athletic and performing arts facility, and repairs for older areas in need of attention. Transportation vehicles, to replace the district's older vehicles, and a transportation facility were also listed as items on the failed 2013 bond request.

Just under 66 percent of HUSD voters came out against the district's proposed $2.8 million override - 7,533 voted no and 3,948 voted in favor of the override.

HUSD officials hoped to bring in resource officers and counselors to the district; provide full-day kindergarten; reduce class size; and attract and retain quality teaching staff when they asked voters to approve a $2.8 million override.

Jeri Ann Kooiman, who worked with the Yes for Humboldt Schools committee in the run-up to the November election, said there are no plans to place another override request in front of voters at this time.

"We are going to keep Yes for Humboldt as a vibrant and active committee, engaging our community with the school district. We have had a couple of meetings and are excited, but there are no plans to move forward at this time. We'll just have to see," Kooiman said, adding that she felt good about engaging the local community during the recent campaign, from business owners to the district's elderly residents.

"I think a lot of our seniors started to see how our school districts need help. Next time around I think it will be very successful," she said.

While voters said no to bond and override initiatives in the quad-city area, voters in the Verde Valley overwhelmingly approved school ballot measures in Cottonwood, Sedona and the Mingus High School District.

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