Most of Tucson’s public school districts and students will have to go without upgrades and additional resources after voters handily shot down three of four local school district bonds and overrides in Tuesday’s election.
The lone bright spot for education advocates comes from Flowing Wells Unified School District, which sought a $24 million bond, and passed with 61 percent of the vote after the vast majority of ballots were counted Tuesday night.
Tucson Unified School District’s $180 million bond request failed by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent.
Voters also rejected Sunnyside Unified School District’s request for a $9.5 million override by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.
And voters snubbed Marana Unified School District’s request for a $2 million bond by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.
There are still roughly 4,000 uncounted ballots that will not be tallied until at least Wednesday.
Education advocates say the losses are a blow to local districts’ ability to serve students in a state that already seriously underfunds education.
“I think the voters are just saying no more taxes,” said Gabriel Trujillo, superintendent of TUSD. “It’s a devastating loss.”
TUSD’s $180 million bond would have covered only part of the immediately necessary upgrades to the district’s 86 schools and other hard assets.
Without it, Trujillo said, the district will have to take a hard look at the budget and find ways to continue to patch the aging infrastructure that should have been replaced years ago. That will likely mean taking money set aside for teacher salary increases and putting it into capital repairs, he said.
“The toughest part of this loss is the (impact on) morale,” he said. “We were hoping for some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Some sort of signal that the community hasn’t forsaken us.”
Sunnyside Unified School District’s Proposition 457 asked voters to approve a 12 percent maintenance and operations budget override, which would have brought in an additional $9.5 million to maintain and expand after-school tutoring programs, pay for full-time specialists and to reduce or eliminate high school athletic participation fees.
But that, too, was handily dismissed by voters.
It’s not the first rejection for the district: Voters rejected a budget override two years ago, just as they had rejected previous override attempts in 2013, 2012 and 2011.
The most immediate hit could come to Sunnyside elementary schools’ after-school tutoring programs, which are funded through federal grant money that will expire next year.
Without the override, those programs could be in jeopardy, though Victor Mercado, spokesman for the district, said it was too early to determine the fate of the programs.
“We’re still going to deliver excellence in those areas that are our strengths: academics, athletics and arts,” he said.
Marana Unified School District’s Proposition 456 asked voters to approve an additional 3 percent maintenance and operations increase primarily to pay for salary increases for teachers and support staff, and to maintain and expand the district’s focus on technology and digital learning tools.
Marana Superintendent Doug Wilson said in a prepared statement that the results “are not reflective of our community’s feelings towards our district.”
Voters, however, did approve the Flowing Wells Unified School District’s $24 million bond, most of which will go toward scrapping school buildings that were designed for an era predating the internet and even air conditioning, and to replace old school buses, technology, furniture and playground equipment.
Superintendent David Baker said his district was able to buck the trend by building trust with the community and having a carefully thought-out process that only asked for what the district really needed.
“It’s roof repairs, school buses, air conditioners, renovating buildings built in the 1960s. … I don’t think you see anything ostentatious in there,” he said.
City Council member Steve Kozachik said the results show voters are tired of funding education through piecemeal local bonds and want the Legislature to step up and fund the entire education system.
“The voters have signaled to Phoenix that these are not local concerns. The state Legislature has the responsibility (to fund education),” he said.
“The toughest part of this loss is the (impact on) morale. We were hoping for some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Some sort of signal that the community hasn’t forsaken us.” Gabriel Trujillo, TUSD superintendent