The top Mesa school district official has been given a prominent role in the campaign to convince voters to approve a city property tax, and Mesa teachers may soon follow.
Debra Duvall, superintendent of the 74,000-student Mesa Unified School District, has been named a co-leader of the campaign committee favoring both the primary property tax and sales tax increase proposals on the May 16 ballot. She is joined by former Mesa Councilman John Giles, who served from 1996 to 2000.
The Mesa Education Association, the district’s teachers union, has already endorsed the property tax and is likely to be active in a city campaign for the first time, executive director Will Moore said. The group has not decided whether it will support the sales tax increase proposal.
With more than 10,000 fulland part-time employees, the Mesa district is the city’s largest employer.
It made sense to ask Duvall to join the campaign, said Charlie Deaton, Mesa Chamber of Commerce president and treasurer of Mesa Citizens for Responsible Public Policy, the chamber committee running the campaign.
"Anytime we put a committee together, naturally we go to those most at stake or (who) feel the strongest about the issue," Deaton said.
Duvall said she will be involved on her own time, and at this stage is laying the groundwork for the upcoming campaign and recruiting people for different tasks, including recently retired City Manager Mike Hutchinson, who confirmed his involvement Thursday.
A number of the potential $37.7 million in budget cuts facing the city if a new revenue source is not approved would affect the district.
On the potential chopping block: Require the district to fully fund school resource officers at junior high schools, eliminate after-school recreation programs, close pools at Rhodes and Poston junior high schools and reduce the hours or possibly close the Dobson and Red Mountain branch libraries.
"It seems fairly obvious to the Mesa Education Association leadership that the results (of the property tax election) have a direct impact on schools," Moore said.
The property tax, which would pay for general city operations, would have a rate of about $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $250 per year on a $250,000 house. The sales tax increase would raise the rate from 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent, with an amount dedicated to street improvements.
No group has officially come forward to oppose the property tax and sales tax increase, but Valley Business Owners (And Concerned Citizens) secretary Jan Hibbard said her group will meet soon to discuss its possible role in the campaign. The group most recently opposed the Mesa Riverview project, which was passed by voters last year, but successfully led the effort to repeal the sales tax on food, stop the Arizona Cardinals stadium and create a council district system.
The relationship between the city and school district is nothing new. The chamber’s Mesa Citizens for Responsible Public Policy has campaigned for city and school district initiatives and will be running this campaign with the help of political consulting firm HighGround.
The committee ran the successful campaign for the city’s "quality-of-life" sales tax increase in 1998 and has helped pass school district budget overrides and both city and school district bonds. The committee is used because the city and district cannot use public resources to influence an election.
Councilman Mike Whalen, who last month was able to convince enough council members to place the property tax issue on the ballot, said he’s happy to have all the support possible.
"This does impact the whole community and I see why a school administrator would want this thing to move forward," Whalen said.
Councilwoman Janie Thom, who voted against the proposals, said she is not surprised that school district officials will be supporting the property tax.
"Aren’t the schools always advocating for higher taxes?" Thom said. "This is nothing new."