VOL. 17 ISSUE NO. 18   |   MAY 4 – 10, 2011


LearnYes.org fundraising, campaigning to pass a November override

The only problem is CCUSD hasn’t yet discussed calling for an override election

lori hartLori Hart, an English teacher at CCUSD and wife of Political Action Committee LearnYes.org Chairman Stephen Hart, is pictured campaigning during the 2009 Taste of Cave Creek event to pass a K-3 override. 

Photos by Linda Bentley

steve hart CCUSD – Attorney Stephen Hart (left), chairman of the Political Action Committee LearnYes.org, held a fundraiser last Friday at Cocomo Joe’s to raise money to help pass a Cave Creek Unified School District budget override in November 2011.

District residents contacted Sonoran News last week to say they were recently called to participate in a CCUSD survey, which they described as no more than an outcome based push-poll.

One parent, who asked not to be identified, said the survey was quite lengthy and asked questions such as, “If you knew that the override would improve home values … retain teachers … reduce class sizes … would you vote yes on the override?”

The same parent said, “I do not think that they are allowed to use school funds to advertise for an override, though I could be wrong. In any case, it certainly leads to erroneous survey results in favor of the override.”

Although none surveyed recollected whether or not the caller identified the name of the person, company or organization on whose behalf the survey was being conducted, the biggest problem is CCUSD hasn’t called for a November override.

In fact, a November override has not even been placed on an agenda for discussion.

What does Hart know that the rest of the district doesn’t? Have board members breached the open meeting law by telling Hart they will definitely vote to call for a budget override?

In light of the Goldwater Institute’s lawsuit against CCUSD for improper and unconstitutional use of bond proceeds, calling for an override election doesn’t appear to be in the district’s best interest, since elections cost money.

Hart posted a letter on the home page of the LearnYes.org website addressed: “Dear Friends of Education.”

He wrote, “Our schools need your help. The Cave Creek Unified School District is an important part of the community – families come here for the quality of our schools, and we all know that good schools enhance property values. Because of the state budget crisis, we will need to work together to continue providing strong educational opportunities for our students.”

Hart provides no evidence whatsoever for his claim “good schools enhance property values.” In fact, property values within the CCUSD have plummeted over the past few years by 50 percent or more, despite most of the district’s schools carrying an “excelling” label.

He goes on to say, “Overrides allow the local community to keep classroom sizes manageable and teacher salaries competitive, critical elements in our commitment to providing superior education for our students.”

Hart’s wife Lori also just happens to be an English teacher at Cactus Shadows High School.

learn yes LearnYes.org student volunteers converged on the 2010 Taste of Cave Creek event where they campaigned to raise property taxes.

Hart continues his letter with, “Your continued support is crucial. Everything, from the value of our homes to the quality of jobs in our community, depends upon the quality of our schools. With the ongoing state budget cuts, all of these accomplishments and our community’s investment are at risk. This means we must be more proactive than ever in protecting the quality of our schools.”

Being more proactive means spending more money than ever to campaign to raise property taxes at a time when gas prices and groceries are at all-time highs and most people can ill afford to pay more for anything.

And, if anyone was wondering who initiated the push poll, Hart’s next paragraph explains: “Recent polls have indicated that voters in the Cave Creek school district will support modest tax increases for classroom expenditures, such as teacher salaries and technology for our students. However, winning an election requires hard work and an information campaign that lays out the facts, especially the benefits and costs, to every taxpayer. By law, district resources cannot be used to influence the outcome of the election. For that reason we hope you will contribute to an effort to get the word out.”

He then lists what people can do to help LearnYes, including making a contribution, volunteering, hosting a neighborhood event, signing up for their e-mail list, and following the PAC on Facebook and Twitter.

The LearnYes.org website has a “Test Scores vs. Tax Rates” page, which compares the test scores of CCUSD with the state and seven other unified school districts in Maricopa County: Deer Valley (DVUSD), Paradise Valley (PVUSD), Peoria (PUSD), Fountain Hills (FHUSD), Scottsdale (SUSD), Dysart (DUSD) and Higley (HUSD).

The following chart, displayed on the LearnYes site, which shows the tax rate for each district’s base support, derived from a formula using primary assessed property valuation, ranges from a high of $3.31 for DVUSD in descending order down to SUSD at $2.40, then FHUSD at $1.92, and CCUSD last at $1.41, all makes sense, since the districts with the lowest rates are the ones with the highest property values, although that component of the formula isn’t mentioned.
school district tax rates chart The state allocates a set amount of funding per student and the assessed valuation of all the property within the district dictates what that tax rate will be. The secondary tax is additional funding provided through voter-approved overrides and bonds. 

So, touting Cave Creek’s low tax rate of $1.40, where the median home valuation is $242,300, and comparing it to let’s say DVUSD’s rate of $3.24, where the median home value is 110,639, is patently dishonest.  

It’s the equivalent of saying 1X3 is much less than 3X1.

As a side note to the boldfaced “Highest Test Scores” and “Lowest Tax Rates,” Hart says, “CCUSD taxpayers enjoy one of the lowest school tax rates in Maricopa County due to the combination of higher property values and relatively low student-to-home ratio.”

It’s not clear why Hart included Peoria, Dysart and Higley in his “surrounding school districts” comparison, since PUSD schools are all located west of 51st Avenue. DUSD schools are located in El Mirage and Surprise, while HUSD schools are located in Gilbert.

None of the districts Hart used for comparison are comparable in either number of schools or enrollment to CCUSD, which has 7 schools and 5,856 students.

PVUSD is the largest with 47 schools and 33,431 students, HUSD has 10 schools and 9,871 students, FHUSD has four schools and 2,234 students, while the rest of the field has between 24 and 40 schools with student enrollment between 24,466 and 37,937.

However, since Hart chose these school districts, we will do so as well to provide an apples-to-apples comparison.

Our comparison below shows per-pupil expenditure has little or nothing to do with teacher to student ratios, whereas DVUSD, PUSD and DUSD are all able to achieve slightly lower teacher/student ratios while spending less per pupil.

Since school funding is all done through formulas based on assessed value of district properties, Hart touting CCUSD as having the lowest tax rate of all eight districts, without revealing the multiplicand, the other half of the formula, is meaningless.

The following chart, which is based on information reported to the Arizona Superintendent of Schools by each district for the 2009/2010 school year, also proves the amount of money spent per student also has no bearing on student achievement. If it did, PVUSD, FHUSD and SUSD should be outperforming CCUSD. However, according to LearnYes, they are not. 

test vs tax chartAt the bottom of the “Test Scores vs. Tax Rates” page, it states: “Vote Yes for Our Schools – November 2011.”

Now that the fundraising and campaigning has begun, it will be interesting to see if or when CCUSD calls for an override election.

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