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Supporters: Without Prop. 204, expect big school cuts

PHOENIX — Kathy Knecht, a governing board member in the Peoria Unified School District said counseling, said specialized reading and gifted student programs may be on the chopping block if voters don’t approve Proposition 204.

Sue Skidmore, president of the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board, said classroom sizes could suffer.

They were among several school board members who spoke at news conferences last week in Phoenix and Tucson in support of the measure, which would establish a 1 cent-per-dollar sales tax devoted primarily to funding education. A temporary sales tax voters approved in 2010 to support education funding is set to expire in May.

Their claims included the possibility that some schools would have to close.

Proposition 204, dubbed the Quality Education and Jobs Act by supporters, also would provide funding for transportation and human services. It would raise an estimated $1 billion a year.

Ann-Eve Pedersen, chairwoman of the proposition’s ballot committee, said that the state’s economy depends on the ballot measure.

“If you want to have those professionals in your life that you depend on — good doctors, good nurses, good veterinarians, good accountants — they better have good places to send their kids to school,” Pedersen said.

But Arizona State Treasurer Doug Ducey, chairman of No on 204, called the news conference “a new low” and “an act of desperation” that diverts attention from the measure’s funding of special interest groups such as road contractors.

“It’s a pork bill, and that’s why they are conducting these desperate measures, because people know it’s a pork bill,” he said in a telephone interview.

Michael Hughes, president of the Arizona School Boards Association and a governing board member for Mesa Unified School District, dismissed that claim.

“I personally take offense by the reference of some that this is a blank check with no accountability,” Hughes said.

Cuts among the arts, athletics and class electives are just a few areas at risk in Mesa, Hughes said. He also said it would be challenging for schools to meet state accountability requirements such as the new framework for teacher and principal evaluations.

“The potential result will be devastating to our entire school system,” Hughes said.

Knecht from Peoria said the 1-cent tax has kept schools afloat amid cuts by the state Legislature and that its loss would be devastating to education.

“We can’t rely on the state Legislature to be sympathetic and supportive of investing in education for Arizona school kids,” Knecht in an interview.

Skidmore said class sizes are already strained in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. Senior English teachers, for example, are already expected to teach 40 students and evaluate 200 term papers.

“That is an impossible task to deliver,” Skidmore said.