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Bill would allow school overrides only in even-numbered years

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PHOENIX – A state lawmaker wants to require school district bond overrides to be held only in even-numbered years, saying that would provide the largest possible turnout.

Sen. Chester Crandell, R- Heber, author of SB 1254, said that in his experience serving on a school board override elections often were held when there would be the least voter turnout.

“It’s pretty common knowledge that you have people that want to sell bonds because that’s how they make their money,” he told the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 6. “And so they’re going to tell schools if you have it this time you’re going to have less voter turnout and a better chance.”

The panel endorsed the bill 6-2, with two the Democrats present voting against. It was awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

Crandell said overrides are better decided with more input from voters.

“The whole purpose of this bill right here is to put the bond elections so that we have the max voter turnout that we get in order that more people will be able to weigh in and cast a vote as to how it’s going to affect your taxes,” he said.

Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said he opposes the bill because a lot can happen in a district in two years and because schools need bonds to survive.

“Because of the funding, with the state eliminating building renewal formula, basically not having any money to build new schools, cutting $238 million out of the capital funding, districts have become more dependent on bond elections,” he said.

Essigs said he is also concerned that most bond overrides end in five years and suggested extending overrides to six years if Crandell’s bill becomes law.

Sabrina Vasquez, legislative liaison for the Arizona School Administrators Association, said the bill would detract from districts being able to respond to voters.

“This takes away local control from school districts by dictating when they can and can’t call out for bonds and overrides,” she said.

Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, who voted for the bill, said he favors cutting back on districts asking voters for more money.

“What I like about this bill is that it minimizes the times – and not every district does this but some certainly do – where they intentionally go out and put the question on the ballot over and over again and practically badger you because they didn’t get the result they wanted in the first place,” he said.

Democratic Sens. David Bradley of Tucson and Carlyle Begay of Ganado voted against the bill, with Bradley saying it would make it more difficult for school districts to stay in business.

“We’ve taken their money illegally and then we make it difficult or as difficult as possible for them to correct for those problems that we create,” he said.