/ Modified sep 9, 2019 5:07 p.m.

Pima County Dems and GOP, Ed Ackerley, education funding shortfalls

Plus, Nogales Unified School District's approach to higher graduation rates.

Tucson’s election in November could make history for a few reasons. Voters could elect the city’s first female mayor or the first Green party and independent candidates. They could also decide to establish Arizona’s first sanctuary city with Proposition 205. The latter has its share of vocal supporters and critics. In Pima County, the Democratic and Republican parties positioned themselves on opposite sides of the issue. Christopher Conover discussed those differences with party chairs Alison Jones and David Eppihimer.

“There’s a three-legged stool of disaster coming to Tucson if this was to pass. There's a public relations disaster, there’s a public safety disaster, and there’s an economic disaster,” Eppihimer said. He called the Pima County Democrats “out of step” for passing a resolution in support of the initiative despite opposition from Democrats running for mayor and police chief Chris Magnus.

Jones defended the initiative and argued a voter initiative to create a sanctuary city wouldn’t be as vulnerable to lost revenue from the state and federal government as critics claim.

“As far as federal funds go, this has been decided in a number of courts and it’s been found that it is not legal to withhold federal funds based on a sanctuary status,” Jones said. “Do we really want our local police to be able to stop people based on the language they’re speaking, the way they dress, or whether they have window tinting? This is a civil rights issue for everyone.”

The conversation also covered Tucson’s mayoral race and the chairs’ views on the candidates that qualified for the ballot.

While Democrats vying for mayor spent the summer focused on the primary, Independent Ed Ackerley spent that time building support for the general election. In November he will face Democrat Regina Romero and Mike Cease, a Green party candidate. Ackerley sat down with Christopher Conover to discuss his campaign’s approach going forward and why he decided to run as an Independent.

“We did the analysis. There are 59,000 Republicans, 80,000 independents. We put those two numbers together. It can give a challenge to the Democrats,” Ackerley said. “I want to help fix Tucson.”

Ackerley is in step with his Democratic opponent when it comes to the sanctuary city initiative also appearing on the ballot. While Ackerley does not support the initiative himself, he said he would defend it from legal challenges if it passes.

“Labeling ourselves a sanctuary city just is not in the best interest of Tucson for the current climate. I’m not against helping people and helping people get adjusted to a new country, but we really need to focus on the core issues of public safety, transportation, and parks,” Ackerley said. “But again, as mayor, we will abide by the law and we’ll do what we need to do as a city to defend the city’s position.”

While Red for Ed led to pay raises for teachers across Arizona, underfunding remains a persistent challenge. Lorraine Rivera spoke to Pima County Superintendent of Schools Dustin Williams about obstacles in the classroom on issues ranging from the country’s perception of public education in Arizona to the need for additional funding for counselors and school resource officers.

“Some of these districts are fortunate to have income levels, or the amount of money that people make around their schools, they’re wealthy and so they can donate and help schools. And every dollar goes a long way,” Williams said. “If you have schools and parents that can’t afford it, those are just dollars and opportunities that aren’t available.”

School districts across Arizona face many of the same hurdles related to funding and teacher retention. Lorraine Rivera visited Nogales High School and learned more about how the Nogales Unified School District has managed to overcome those obstacles to boast one of the state’s highest graduation rates. It has a 98% graduation rate compared to the state average of 77%. Rivera spoke to educator Eliza Lopez and superintendent Fernando Parra about the district’s approach in the classroom.

“We also have a monitoring system,” Parra said. “If a student is absent from school, we call the parents automatically, immediately, to see why the student was not in school. And so that goes from kindergarten all the way to the higher levels to the graduation.”

Parra also described a benefit of growing up along the border is that many students are bilingual and biliterate in English and Spanish.

“By the time they finish high school they can dominate two languages,” Parra said.

Arizona 360
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