Taking Prop 100 to the streets - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Taking Prop 100 to the streets

Backers plead for sales tax support

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Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:10 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A handful of parents, teachers and students stood at Ina and Oracle on Saturday morning, holding placards that urged motorists to vote for Proposition 100, the three-year, 1 percent sales tax that would generate revenue for education and public safety if the voters of Arizona approve it on Tuesday, May 18.

There was one Prop 100 foe on the corner, too. He declined to speak.

As motorists passed, they honked horns and raised thumbs in support … and turned thumbs down against as well.

Most of the street-corner supporters came from Harelson Elementary School, the "excelling" Amphitheater School District K-6 school not far from the Northwest's busiest corner.

"The Harelson community has really rallied," said Harelson principal Andy Heinemann in a Friday interview. "I'm really impressed."

"This is a really important initiative," said Terry Pollock, a Tucson resident since 1960 and the parent of two Harelson students. "I've never seen the state of education quite as imperiled as it seems to be right now." With budget cuts already enacted, and more to come, "the notion there isn't going to be any funding is really terrifying."

Pollock has been blogging about Prop 100, posting entries on Facebook, talking to everybody "who's likely to vote, and even more important, those who are not likely to vote."

Opponents "don't have the vision to understand the consequences of diminishing the quality of education, for the long-term future of our community," Pollock said. "They see the one penny. They don't see the long term.

"We who support propositions like 100 have to work that much harder to educate."

Harelson Elementary School has 21 classroom teachers in grades K-6.

Nine of those teachers are on short-term contracts. They won't likely be back next year. Six continuing teachers received a reduction-in-force letter. One was a music teacher who'd been at the school for nine years.

"It was one of the most difficult experiences I've had to encounter as an administrator," Heinemann said of RIF notification. "We have such a quality staff. They are dedicated, they give their heart and soul. That's tough."

If Prop 100 passes, Harelson expects to have between 16 and 18 teachers. Each teacher would have more children in class. If Prop 100 is defeated, the number of teachers goes down, and the student-teacher ratio gets higher. It's Heinemann's biggest concern, ahead of "an 80 percent reduction in capital I can use." Materials are expensive. His budget for new materials, such as workbooks, may go from $25,320 this year to "$5,000? I'm already at 80 percent if it passes.

"We'll have to be creative in how we group kids. We'll have no extra resources. Some programs may disappear. We'll be asking parents to help with monetary items, and time. You have a class of 35? You need a parent volunteer every day."

Heinemann taught for 10 years. "I truly believe the professional expertise of the teacher determines significant academic outcomes," Heinemann said. "Increasing class sizes does produce many more challenges."

"The number of students is going to stay the same," Pollock said. "How can we as parents reasonably expect our teachers, no matter how skilled they are, to be able to provide a quality education? It's an overwhelming expectation."

School is "going to look different," Heinemann said. "I don't think people really understand the impact.

"We already operate at bare bones. If this proposition does not pass, it's going to cripple public education."

Kara Smarz moved to Oro Valley from Texas in 2008, "worried about moving to a state so low in the ratings for education."

Her husband Richard is an aerospace engineer at Raytheon, and they were coming to greater Tucson. "I was determined to find the best elementary school I could find," Smarz said. "I looked for a school where nobody complained about the principal. I figured if a school had a strong principal, it was a strong school, and boy, was I ever right."

Daughter Olivia is a second-grader. She's developed a love of reading, and Smarz gives teacher Becka Anderson all the credit. "She's picking up books now, she's excited about them."

Daughter Sophie starts kindergarten next year. "I will be paying $1,300" for full-day kindergarten next year, Kara Smarz said. Amphi's school board has agreed to keep full-day kindergarten, but parents must pay tuition next year.

"We'll cut things out of our lives so she can do this. It's important. I know how excited she is to go to school all day with her big sister," Smarz said of Sophie.

Smarz is "worried, worried, that our wonderful, wonderful teachers here are going to have a harder time reaching children" because they'll have so many more in class. "It's very upsetting to think these wonderful teachers are going to have to deal with that.

"These kids are our future. Who's going to want to live here? I don't feel our legislators vote in favor of it." She wants education proponents "to support the people who support education. The time has come, it's right now. It's got to happen now."

"I'm hoping everybody goes out and votes for our kids, and for our teachers," Smarz said. "This is huge, and it needs to be fixed. This May 18 thing is going to come and go, and we've got bigger things to take care of."

If Richard's work required a move, "I probably wouldn't argue with him. Raytheon, they have jobs that don't get filled because people don't want to live here. It's a great place to live. I would like to continue to live here."

In decades of teaching, "I've never seen it like this," Barb Wherry said. "Our funding has been in a decline since I started. This is a nosedive.

"So many people are totally against any type of tax," Wherry said. "It doesn't matter what it's for. I don't feel people are educated enough."

Wherry is on a one-year contract teaching first grade. She came out of retirement to work. She's not expecting a full-time job next school year.

"When we say we're up against the wall, and this is going to be crippling, it's true," Wherry said. "Funding has been cut, gradually some years, extraordinarily in other years, for at least the last 25 years." Money for supplies is nearly gone. Cost of living increases went away. Yet the demands of the work have increased, Wherry believes.

"If you haven't been in to see how hard this job really is, you can't imagine," she said. "The pressure of being a classroom teacher is like nothing else. It's monumental. It's never boring. And we like kids. Children are the most interesting colleagues to have.

"We really do work hard, we really care, and they should too, because it's the right thing. Everyone should care about children."

Harelson first-grade teacher Beth Carter was at Ina and Oracle, holding her sign and looking after her dachshund Valentine. The 10-year, first-grade teacher still has her job. She describes it as "temporarily protected. If the Arizona Legislature makes any more cuts to education in the state of Arizona, it will not exist in the public form," she said.

Carter urged Prop 100 support because "I care about students, and I care about the teachers I work with."

She fears that people whose children are grown up, or whose children attend private or charter schools, don't see a need to support public education. "We all walk this state together," Carter said. "Prisons versus schools? I question that value. And I'm not anti-charter school."

Regardless of what happens May 18, "I'm not done," Carter said, waving her sign to motorists.

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