We must admire the positive attitude expressed by Superintendent Robert Devere after Tuesday’s devastating defeat of the $10 million bond proposal for the Tombstone Unified School District.
“We’ve been running the district without a bond or an override for many years and will continue to move forward just as we’ve always done,” Devere said.
About one-third of Tombstone’s registered voters cast ballots for the mail-in referendum and the question went down to defeat by a margin of almost six percentage points. Political pundits would consider the outcome a failure of supporters to “get out the vote” in favor of the revenue bond.
In fact, a considerable percentage of the families attending Tombstone schools do not live within the boundaries of the district and were not eligible to cast ballots. That’s a consequence of Arizona’s “school choice” policies which empower parents to choose where they want their kids enrolled.
Tombstone, which has distinguished itself for its award-winning ROTC program and a quality curriculum that annually achieves academic success, draws students from Sierra Vista, Hereford, and other communities where parents like the idea of smaller schools and lower student-to-teacher ratios. Unfortunately, many of these parents were not eligible to cast ballots in the referendum.
Devere’s public statement was expected but masks the reality of the challenges facing Tombstone. Four years ago, the district was in a terrible financial position due to serious accounting errors, and slashed spending. The district also dramatically raised its property tax, which prompted an angry public outcry.
Since that time, Tombstone school officials have faithfully reduced the tax levy every year while continuing to operate within a bare-bones budget. Capital improvement projects for student safety, technology, infrastructure and other needed maintenance have been put off while the school district recovered from its poor financial condition.
State support has been non-existent and our legislators have only recently started to partially restore the fund that is supposed to finance capital improvements at public schools across Arizona. The absence of these monies was among the reasons that Sierra Vista voters approved a $29 million school bond three years ago, realizing that without the local funding, needed capital improvements would never be accomplished.
Superintendent Devere has the right attitude and life will go on at Tombstone schools. We’re disappointed that so few registered voters participated in a referendum that would have provided funding to ensure the success of local students for years to come.