Leading up to the Nov. 5 vote on the district maintenance and operations budget override in the Sunnyside Unified School District, we have heard from teachers, some of whom stand to lose their jobs if the override doesn’t pass.
We have also heard from district leadership about the budgetary shortfalls due to the continued leaching of education funds by of the state of Arizona. But no one has spoken about what will happen to the neighborhoods if the Sunnyside District is denied the necessary funding to support the activities offered to children and families today.
Homeowners who have children in the Sunnyside schools know of those programs like athletics, music, early childhood education and after-school activities that keep kids and families engaged in school long after the last bell rings for the day. But what about homeowners who don’t have children in our schools or didn’t graduate from our schools? Why should they care about these activities, their costs and most of all, why should they say yes to an increase in their tax bill?
It’s called quality of life. The quality of life in a neighborhood is directly related to healthy schools and services they provide to students. When the schools deteriorate, the quality of life goes down and the crime rate goes up.
The primary demographic of the Sunnyside District is poverty. A basic ingredient of crime is poverty. When you live in a community that has high poverty, you often see high crime as well. The other ingredient for high crime is deprivation. When people are deprived of jobs, housing, health care, food and other social factors, the potential for crime is high.
During the past five years, the local economy reeled, unemployment has gone up and urban stress has increased, yet the crime rate on the south side has remained flat. The district has not seen an increase in crime over the past five years, but the basic ingredient for crime is still there. This is a credit to the district and the programs and services we provide to the students and families.
However, there has been a spike in homicides in the Tucson area. Look at where the homicides are occurring and chances are you will find a weak school system — especially a high school.
Crime on the south side hasn’t always been what it is today. I have lived in this community for 58 years, as a Tucson Police Department officer of 25 years and as South Tucson’s police chief for 10 years. I have been a crime observer in the south-side neighborhoods for more than 40 years. I watched crime trends in the city because my job was to figure out what was happening, why it was happening and what could we do to counter it. The south side of Tucson was the epicenter of crime in Tucson 15 to 20 years ago. Assaults, gang activity, graffiti and burglaries all made our neighborhoods dangerous.
But schools partnered with the city Parks Department and law enforcement agencies to build programs that kept kids off the streets and engaged in after-school programs. Schools became more than institutions of learning. They took on a role providing for the children in ways that families were not able to. Today, for many students living in poverty, the schools are their only provider of meals, after-school activities, and social and health care.
As a Sunnyside employee and longtime law enforcement officer, I urge the district voters to understand that Proposition 405 is about keeping schools economically healthy and maintaining the quality of life in the neighborhood.