A group of Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills residents is mobilizing to urge voters to vote yes. And yes. And yes again.
The “Yes Yes Yes, Save Our Schools” political action committee is gearing up to work for passage of three ballot initiatives that would benefit the Tempe Union High School District — two of which were rejected by voters last November.
Led by Mel Hannah, of the Phoenix Urban League, and former Tempe Union school board member Dick Foreman, the group will meet weekly to create a strategy to get support for the measures.
And this time around, supporters say, the challenge is greater:
Skyrocketing gas prices, a troubled real estate market and high food prices mean voters could be less likely to OK any additional taxes.
The first question voters will have to answer this fall will be whether or not to pass a seven-year, $37.7 million maintenance and operations budget override. Since residents voted down renewal of the 10 percent override last year, the district has already seen a $2 million decrease in its budget. If voters reject it again, the district will stop getting money from it in 2010-11.
If it passes, however, the Tempe Union district would begin receiving the money again — starting with $6.3 million in the 2009-10 school year.
The second ballot initiative is a capital outlay override, which would allow the district to exceed its spending by $6 million a year for the next seven years. Currently, the district does not have permission for such an override, since that measure was shot down by voters last year, too.
The third initiative is the sale of a $30 million bond, which would go to fund projects such as replacing 30-year-old boilers at Tempe, McClintock and Marcos de Niza high schools, reroofing Corona del Sol and Desert Vista high schools and refurbishing an all-weather track at Mountain Pointe High School.
Other improvements listed by the district include repaving parking lots and upgrading fire alarm systems and surveillance cameras.
If the measures pass, voters would see an increase in their property taxes.
All together, the three measures would raise taxes by .19 percent — or $53.40 on a house assessed at $281,000, according to figures released by the school district.
That $53 won’t necessarily be an easy sell, Foreman said, and he doesn’t plan to trivialize it.
“I don’t take it for granted,” he said. “People who do that, you know, who say things like 'It’s just the same amount as a dinner for four at Long John Silver’s,’ I don’t do that. … That’s their hard-earned money, and that’s a sacrifice for them in the economy we’re in. We want to be their first priority for those dollars, not because we cajoled them, but because we deserve it. … We need to earn their support.”
Several students attended the committee’s meeting Wednesday. And some teachers, like Mountain Pointe social studies chairman K.R. Scott, are spending part of their summer creating an action plan.
The strategy needs to go beyond just teachers and other school employees, he said, since many of the teachers at Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools don’t even live within the boundaries of the school district, and, therefore, can’t vote in the election.
So Scott said he wants to find ways to do outreach to different groups, from booster clubs and families to local businesses and faith-based communities, and he hopes that supporters from other schools can use his plan as a template for their own efforts.
“It’s going to come down to a very tight vote,” he said, “and we can’t leave any stone unturned.”