October 30, 2006

Trade-Teaching Prop. 400 Popular: Opposition to Measure Based on Tax, Workload

By Jeff Commings, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Oct. 30--Larry Williams has attended nearly every parents' meeting, sat on hundreds of couches and shaken the hands of business leaders in his effort to drum up support for a proposition that would give local high school students new opportunities in career and technical education.

During the past five months, he's heard very little opposition to Proposition 400, which, if approved, will create a new school entity focused solely on teaching specialized classes, funded by Pima County taxpayers and taught by area teachers.

"Proposition 400 is one of the very few on the ballot that seems to have overwhelming support," said Williams, a former Tucson Unified School District regional superintendent.

But the opposition is out there, mostly in the form of Mary Schuh of the Pima Association of Taxpayers. Schuh said she hasn't encountered anyone who is opposed to the proposition as much as she is, but she didn't take her stance lightly.

After reading the proposed legislation on the new district, called a joint technological education district, or JTED, Schuh said she couldn't find any overwhelming evidence that pooling resources for a select group of students was worth another tax on Pima County homeowners.

"I could not find a reason that could justify another layer of government," she said. "We don't need another (district) to manage. I think it's irresponsible of all these districts to get behind this."

Last spring, the governing boards of all 11 Pima County public school districts expressed their support for the idea. That sent the proposition to the November ballot for Pima County voters. If it is approved, it would pool funds from two or more school districts that could reach as much as $10 million. School districts would not be able to use any of this money for improvements at their schools not directly related to career and technical education.

The money, coming from property taxes of $10 per $200,000 of a home's value, would update existing labs and classrooms that focus on technical fields such as nursing, welding and computer design using an industry-approved curriculum. Many Tucson-area teachers say their equipment is outdated, and most of what they teach is not applicable in the 21st century.

Advocates say the JTED would give students who are not interested in continuing to a major university after high school more career options.

"The biggest issue right now is finding skilled labor," said David Pittman, director of the Southern Arizona branch of the Arizona Builders' Alliance, which works with 150 contracting and supply firms. "There are a lot of jobs working with your hands that are good-paying jobs, and we all need those kind of people."

Funding for the technical district is Schuh's main point of contention. The grandmother of three students in Amphitheater Public Schools, Schuh is worried that TUSD and Amphitheater, the county's two largest districts, will be "subsidizing" the smaller districts that contribute a much smaller amount of money to the new district.

Schuh also said schools already are doing a fine job of teaching kids about technical careers. She praised Amphitheater's coursework and mentioned that TUSD must have a good curriculum if thousands of high school students already are enrolled in some kind of career and technological class.

District data show that 12,750 TUSD students took career and technical classes during the last school year.

Schuh said teenagers are already trying to squeeze too much in their school day. JTED students most likely will have to commute, which is unnecessary, she said.

"I think it's going to be a crushing load on the kids," she said.

Schuh acknowledges she's the only vocal opponent of Proposition 400, but whether or not it passes, she hopes voters have a desire to research the information before going to the polls.

"The ignorance has overwhelmed me," she said. "Most people don't even understand what they're getting excited about."

On StarNet: Find out which candidates and propositions the Star endorses at azstarnet.com/politics Fast facts: Proposition 400 l The measure: Proposition 400 -- Joint Technological Education District. Creates a centralized agency to enhance the ability for all Pima County high school students to take vocational and technical classes.

l Core facts: Would provide state funds to update materials and curriculum, as well as prepare students for careers or college. The district, commonly called a JTED, would be governed by a separate board made up of representatives from all 11 Pima County school districts. The JTED will be funded with a property-tax increase equaling $10 per $200,000 of home value.

l For and against: Backers include the Jim Click Automotive Group and Sundt Construction. Opponents include the Pima Association of Taxpayers.

l Real-world impact: Advocates say the JTED could give businesses a better pool of job candidates, given that they will have broader knowledge of their career fields. Critics say it's another tax increase that Pima County residents can't afford.

Research the Nov. 7 midterm election; watch videos from Star Editorial Board meetings with candidates and supporters and opponents of ballot initiatives. Also, read past Star articles and endorsements.

Go to guide --Contact reporter Jeff Commings at 573-4191 or at [email protected]


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