Education issues are not in their jurisdiction, but some Tempe City Council members want voters to tell them what they think about the idea of unifying three local school districts.
A brainstorming session during a weekend council retreat sparked debate once again regarding consolidation of the Kyrene Elementary, Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union High school districts. Councilman Ben Arredondo said the council wants to put the idea on an upcoming ballot as a "nonbinding issue," asking voters to indicate whether they would like to revisit the issue.
"Why not put something in there?" Arredondo said.
In an April 1996 primary election, more than 5,000 community members voted to look into consolidating the districts, while about 1,000 opposed the issue. A committee was formed after the landslide vote, but the members could not agree on how to combine the districts.
Arizona School Boards Association attorney Chris Thomas said the city has no authority when it comes to consolidation. Governing boards from each district would have to agree for it to happen, he said.
Councilwoman Barb Carter distanced herself from the idea.
"Quite honestly, it is not our place as a municipal government to tell another governing body what they should be doing," she said.
Carter also questioned whether voters would be wellinformed about unification if they did have the opportunity to vote on the issue.
"It’s going to take somebody to launch an information campaign if we want an educated electorate out there," Carter said. "Who’s going to do that?"
Tempe Elementary Superintendent Art Tate said he hopes that if the issue does reach the ballot, that community members would "have full knowledge of the pros and cons." Tate said he’s not sure if governing board members will focus on the issue in the near future.
Tempe Union governing board president Mary Lou Taylor said she was blindsided by the idea when she heard about the city’s discussion.
"I was surprised because I didn’t even know the city was thinking about it," Taylor said.
Another complication is that the issue involves more than Tempe residents.
"Kyrene also has students from Chandler, the Gila River Indian Community, Guadalupe and Phoenix," said Kyrene governing board president Rae Waters, who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills.
Carter said the earliest the idea could reach the ballot would be May.
"It’s got to be the collective will of at least four of us to go forward," she said. "(And) I don’t think we’re all on the same page."