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Thu, Nov. 21

Schools, Yavapai County mull next steps if election delayed
County plans to move ahead with polling places for Tuesday vote

Prescott Mile High Middle School 8th grade social studies teacher Liz Saari has a full house with 35 students in her afternoon class. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Prescott Mile High Middle School 8th grade social studies teacher Liz Saari has a full house with 35 students in her afternoon class. (Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT – After learning Monday that an attorney was seeking to delay the May 17 special election, school officials are bracing the same as if Proposition 123 were to fail at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, county elections officials said they’ve not had to handle a canceled or delayed election and are still planning to staff polling stations Tuesday.

A Phoenix attorney said Monday he’s suing to halt the election because Secretary of State Michele Reagan failed to send some 200,000 voter information pamphlets before early ballots arrived. (See related story in which Reagan says she will not cancel the election.)

Two propositions are up for consideration.

Proposition 123 would allow the state to dip into the Permanent Land Endowment Trust Fund as a short-term funding source for schools.

Municipalities, counties and fire districts are watching Proposition 124, which would allow the state to limit future benefit increases for police and firefighters.

Whether the election proceeds or not, it’s a situation schools were already prepared for, but Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard said it’s the worst-case scenario he’d hoped the district would avoid.

“It puts schools in a horrible position,” Howard said. “That’s going to shake out into hurting kids.”

The impact to PUSD’s 2016-17 budget is about $700,000, and across the state, about $230 million.

Howard said an election failure will mean larger class sizes and fewer raises for teachers around the state.

He was quick to point out, however, PUSD personnel will still see raises tied to the passage of a budget override last fall.

The more immediate concern is what happens in the meantime.

In the case of PUSD, the outcome of Proposition 123 will determine how many employees the district has on its payroll next year. That means the district has delayed sending contracts until after the election.

If the election were to not happen next week, Howard said his administration may be forced to further delay until state officials decide how to proceed.

“The further back we push the process, the harder time we have finding quality teachers,” he said.

Humboldt Unified School District isn’t in as tough of a bind.

Superintendent Dan Streeter said this year’s contracts have a clause that’s triggered by the results of Proposition 123, increasing salaries if it passes.

“We have a budget that’s approved going into next year without Proposition 123,” Streeter said.

If voters approve the added funds May 17, HUSD will reopen its budget to add an anticipated $1.2 million in revenue.

Yavapai County elections officials said they’ve already started getting calls from voters wondering if there will be an election.

“For us, it’s business as usual,” Recorder Leslie Hoffman said.

Voter turnout is already at 30 percent, she said, citing the volume of ballots returned and verified as of noon Tuesday, May 10.

Elections Director Lynn Constabile said there were indications in April that voters were missing their mailed voter pamphlets. “We let (the Secretary of State) know right away,” she said.

In conference calls with elections officials around the state, she learned pamphlets are missing in at least Yavapai, Coconino, Graham and Cochise counties.

Constabile said she put a link to the electronic version of the pamphlet on the county’s elections website, and printed copies are available in both the Prescott and Cottonwood offices.

Ultimately, the decision about Tuesday’s election lies with the courts. Both Constabile and Hoffman said they’ve not had to deal with a canceled election.

“We’re still telling all the poll workers to come on Tuesday,” Constabile said.

If a judge cancels the election, it’s clear neither proposition will be passed before the start of the fiscal year beginning July 1, exactly 45 days after the election.

That’s the same number of days state law requires for sending ballots to military personnel before an election – ballots that won’t be printed unless a judge orders a delay and the state rescheduled the election.

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