Sunnyside schools will seek override to avert new cuts

Board OKs it 5-0 despite some voters' anger at Isquierdo contract extension
2013-06-25T00:00:00Z Sunnyside schools will seek override to avert new cutsJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Sunnyside Unified School District will hold an override election in November in an effort to prevent further staff and program cuts.

Sunnyside's Governing Board voted 5-0 Monday night to call the election for the 12 percent maintenance and operations budget override, despite reservations of board members Daniel Hernandez Jr. and Buck Crouch. The two are concerned about the community's reaction to embattled Superintendent Manuel Isquierdo's recent two-year contract extension.

However, board members Louie Gonzales, Eva Carrillo Dong and Bobby Garcia said they're confident voters will move past the recent issues and focus on preventing further cuts.

Sunnyside officials painted a woeful picture if the override doesn't pass, saying the district would lose about $8.9 million from its budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which would result in the loss of many staff positions and programs.

The cuts would include positions ranging from teachers and librarians to prevention specialists and off-duty police officers.

The district could close the Ocotillo Early Learning Center's regular education programs and stop providing all-day kindergarten, officials said.

Sunnyside has lost $5.3 million in override money in the past two years after overrides failed in the 2011 and 2012 elections, said the district's chief financial officer, Hector Encinas.

If the upcoming override passes, it would generate about $9.2 million in its first year, Encinas said.

It will cost between $100,000 and $118,000 for the district to call the election. The cost depends on whether the district only sends mail-in ballots or if it decides to have voting sites.

The district might face a tough battle for voter support after some community members vowed not to approve an override after Isquierdo's extension.

Some people called for Isquierdo's resignation because of his financial and legal problems, including filing for bankruptcy, owing back taxes, and claims by current and former employees that he ordered teachers to change test scores in order to inflate graduation rates.

However, the Governing Board voted 3-2 last week to approve the extension, with Hernandez and Crouch opposed.

The two doubt voters will approve the override.

"This is going to be a really tough sell. I don't see this passing because we shot ourselves in the foot," Hernandez said.

The other three board members said the community is ready to move past the issue and focus on students. "This isn't about the superintendent anymore," Garcia said. "It's about the programs in front of us."

On StarNet: Find education-related resources and special reports at azstarnet.com/education

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