Flagstaff voters may be asked to weigh in on higher taxes to support transportation needs and affordable housing, but a citizen-driven effort to increase the sales tax for parks and recreation has met its end.
At Tuesday night’s work session the majority of the Flagstaff City Council directed city staff to stop working with the Flagstaff Open Space, Parks and Recreation campaign, which sought to raise the sales tax to support the acquisition and creation of new parks and recreation facilities.
Charles Hammersley, the organizer of the group, has said the group does not plan to pursue an initiative for the measure, and said in an email to the group’s supporters that the attempt to place it on the ballot was “defeated by city council.”
A majority of the council supported moving forward on creating a bond question to pay for new affordable housing, rehabilitation of existing affordable units and homebuyer assistance.
Management Services Director Rick Tadder presented the council with a series of options that included bond authorization of $25 million, $30 million and $35 million. If the bond for $30 million were to pass, the average residential impact for the secondary property tax would be $60 per year, or $1,200 in total for the 20-year period until the bond was paid off.
If a bond for $30 million was passed, and 80 percent of the money was used for creation and rehabilitation of affordable units and 20 percent was used for homebuyer assistance, Housing Director Sarah Darr said a total of between 1,000 and 1,040 units could be impacted by the bond. Approximately 800 units could be created or rehabilitated, and between 200 and 240 homebuyers could be given assistance with down payment or closing costs.
Darr also proposed creating a committee that would be in charge of bond oversight for the money, and could make decisions about allocating the money if the housing market or other factors were to change over the life of the funding.
At the meeting, seven members of the public spoke about the issue, including six people speaking in support of the council creating a bond for affordable housing. One person opposed the bond, and said higher secondary property taxes make it harder for people who already own homes in Flagstaff to stay in their homes, and increases the overall cost of living.
Ross Altenbaugh, the director of Flagstaff Shelter Services, spoke in favor of the bond, and said she estimates many of the people who use the shelter have the means to get into some kind of housing, there are just not enough options available in their price range for them to sign a lease somewhere.
“In our community, if social workers, teachers and nurses can’t afford housing, in my opinion it is very bleak for those with significant housing barriers,” she said.
The measure narrowly reached a majority of the council in favor -- Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilwomen Eva Putzova and Celia Barotz voiced their support. Councilman Jim McCarthy said his support would depend on what the final measure is, Councilman Scott Overton said he was in favor of advancing the discussion but not in favor of the bond, and Councilman Charlie Odegaard said he opposed the bond.
City staff will come back to the council with voter survey results about the options for the transportation tax ballot question at the end of next month.
The Citizens Transportation Tax Commission, which was created this year to formulate ballot questions for the city’s transportation sales tax, decided to recommend options that include a separate question for the Lone Tree Bridge over the railroad tracks, and one option that lumps the bridge in with a bundle of “congestion improvements.”
In total, both options, which would fund the same projects if all questions were to pass, would raise about $300 million over the 20-year life of the tax.
At a meeting two weeks ago, members of the Sustainability Commission took issue with the recommendations because the Transportation Tax Commission was not given adequate background information about the effects of climate change, members of the commission said to the council.
The council asked the Sustainability Commission if they could come up with suggestions for changes before the issue came back to the council for discussion.
However, at Tuesday night’s meeting, Dara Marks-Marino, a member of the commission, said her fellow commissioners opted not to make direct recommendations on changes to the questions, which she called “flawed.”
Members of the Transportation Tax Commission also addressed the council, and said their recommendations do add substantially to the city’s multimodal system, by adding bicycle and pedestrian projects, as well as requiring any new streets to be “complete streets” which include sidewalk and bike lanes.
Sporting red T-shirts, jackets and signs, hundreds of district and charter school teachers, students and education supporters across Flagstaff showed up early at their schools Wednesday morning as part of a walk-in in support of the #RedforEd movement.
The movement is protesting low teacher pay and funding for education in the state that, on a per-pupil basis, is among the lowest in the nation.
At Flagstaff High School more than a 100 teachers, students, administrators and education supporters from three nearby schools -- FHS, Flagstaff Junior Academy and Marshall Elementary -- gathered before the school day started to listen to veteran teachers and students talk about their reasons for fighting for higher teacher pay. Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans also attended to show her support. When the first bell rang for the school day, the group walked en masse into the school in a show of support.
#RedforEd is a statewide movement organized by Arizona Educators United. The group is demanding that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Legislature meet five requirements that include a 20 percent pay increase for teachers, pay increases for school support staff, a restoration of education funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts.
The movement’s organization has said it will call for a walk-out at schools across the state if three criteria are met: 40,000 citizens sign a petition supporting their demands, at least 1,000 schools across the state hold a walk-in and 30,000 people sign a pledge to support teachers who walk out.
FHS history teacher Mitch Askew notified the crowd, to cheers of delight, that the Flagstaff Unified School District Board had unanimously signed a resolution supporting the Red for Ed movement at Tuesday’s regular board meeting. It was standing room only at that meeting. The board also adjusted its policy on gatherings on school property to allow the Red for Ed supporters to stand outside the doors of FUSD schools for the walk-in Wednesday morning.
“I would not be in the position I am without all of the teachers in my life,” said FHS Student Body President Josh Vallecillo. He said he had a rough freshman year at FHS. He moved from a small middle school to a much larger high school and at the same time, his mom was diagnosed with leukemia. When teachers and staff at the school found out, they brought his family meals, stopped him in the hall to ask how the family was doing and helped him keep up with his school work.
“We are 48th in the nation in teacher salaries for high schools and 50th in the nation in teacher salaries for elementary schools,” he said to boos from the crowd. “I would like to invite all of the legislators in the state to come to a classroom and see what it’s like before they make their next state budget.”
“No one who is great, movie stars, scientists or artists, became who they are without great educators,” Vallecillo said. “Today’s a great day for change. We will make the change. We will see you at the polls in November.”
“Twenty-eight years at the same district, 28 years at the same high school, 28 years in the same classroom,” said Danielle Bradley, a Spanish teacher at Flag High. “I miss all of the fine teachers who have left during those years. They should be entering their prime teaching years with us, but they couldn’t afford to stay in Flagstaff. I look at the new teachers here and I’m scared that they won’t be here in 28 years.”
Clyde Ellis, a junior at FHS, encouraged the crowd to get involved in the Red for Ed movement.
“It’s really easy to make a post on Facebook or a tweet. It’s really easy to wear a red shirt,” he said.
The state has pushed teachers and students into a corner when it comes to funding education.
“Just know that there are thousands of kids supporting you,” he said.
Kelly Graham, an English teacher at FHS, pleaded with supporters at the rally to do their own research on education funding in the state. Don’t wait for others to do it for you, she said. Don’t let others create fractions that will split you apart from others.
“We have to stand up for tough solutions,” she said. “We have to speak up until others are willing to do the hard work. This is just the start.”
She talked about a freshman student she had a conversation with. The student, who wanted to become an engineer, said she didn’t like her math classes this year because they were working with their fourth teacher of the year. The student was afraid she was missing things because of the turnover in teachers.
“How many students will we let down in this way?” Graham asked.
Teachers are humble people. They don’t like to fight for themselves, she said. She encouraged people to look for someone to fight for, a student, a teacher, a staff member.
“I will use my voice. I will use my vote for the people of this state,” Graham said. "There will be a payoff if the Red for Ed movement is successful. It may not be immediate but it will pay off 10-fold in the future."
FHS Principal Tony Cullen asked the group to not forget the classified staff at the schools. Classified staff are usually janitors, lunch room workers, aides and office staff. They also need support and funding, he said.
Several charter schools also held walk-ins in support of the Red for Ed movement, including BASIS Flagstaff, Northland Preparatory Academy and Pine Forest School, among others.
Flagstaff Junior Academy Director Thomas Drumm was at the Red for Ed walk-in at FHS. He also announced that the FJA Board had unanimously signed on to the resolution supporting Red for Ed.
“Have never seen this level of solidarity among charter and district schools,” he said. “I respectfully disagree with those who think that there is enough funding for education in Arizona.”
Drumm pointed out that when the school year started, the state had more than 1,000 vacant teaching positions.
“That is not fair to the students,” he said. Low teacher pay is just one reason for the teacher shortage in Arizona. He warned that Arizona will fall further behind in education as more teachers leave the state for better-paying jobs elsewhere. He called the underfunding of education in the state and the nation a direct threat to democracy. He urged people attending the event to vote for candidates who support education funding in November’s elections.
Across town at Pine Forest, Mount Elden Middle School and Puente de Hozho Elementary, car horns echoed down a block of Fourth Street Wednesday morning, where teachers, staff and students from the three neighborhood schools held signs and wore red in support of increasing education funding.
"As of this year, state testing requires online submission, but we don't have a computer lab," said Jenny Cummiskey, a second-grade teacher at Pine Forest. "We are mostly not technology-based, but it's required for all public schools."
The school is working to raise money for a mobile computer lab for testing purposes, she said.
Cummiskey organized the "walk-in" at Pine Forest, and said the staff at the school wants to stand in solidarity with all Arizona public schools.
When asked if Pine Forest teachers were prepared to walk out if the demands are not met, Cummiskey said the teachers are still discussing the possibility, but "I think we are."
About 100 teachers, staff, students and community members gathered outside Puente de Hozho before school Wednesday morning. Principal Robert Kelty gave teachers each a red daisy to hold in support.
Kindergarten teacher Danielle Morales and second-grade teacher Lauren Bradshaw organized the school's walk-in.
"I've been a teacher for a couple decades, and I have two part-time jobs just to keep my teaching job," Morales said.
Morales said people are never shocked to hear that she works three jobs, especially other teachers.
"It's sad that it's not shocking," she said. "I can't think of one person who's been shocked to hear I have two other jobs."
Bradshaw has been a teacher in FUSD for nine years, and said she came into teaching after large cuts to education were made, so she is used to low pay and lack of raises.
"I didn't know any different," she said. "When I started to hear about it, I was shocked at the state of our state."
The two said they know of colleagues who have left Arizona to teach in other states for more money, adding to the crisis when qualified teachers no longer want to work here.
Morales said teachers at Puente de Hozho are prepared to walk out if the demands of the Arizona Education Association are not met.
PHOENIX -- Hoping to corral the votes for his school safety plan, Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to some changes in key provisions that would allow judges to take away someone's guns, at least on a temporary basis.
The new version of the bill, formally introduced Wednesday, still allows courts to issue Severe Orders of Protection, authorizing police to seize any weapons while people are evaluated to see if they are a threat to themselves or others. And, depending on a mental health evaluation, those affected could be barred from purchasing or possessing guns.
But Ducey's original proposal would have allowed someone to be held for up to 48 hours after a judge determines that person is not a danger. SB 1519, set for legislative debate, cuts that it half.
Potentially more significant, the bill spells out that any weapons taken must be released within 24 hours after a person is found not to be a danger, not the 72 hours that was in the original draft.
The version of the bill that now will be debated in the Senate, also does not include some things Ducey had sought.
That includes his desire to deny permits to carry a concealed weapon to anyone who has an outstanding arrest warrant. And Ducey sought to eliminate a provision in existing law that says a person automatically regains the right to own a weapon when a judge sets aside a felony conviction.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said those provisions proved to be non-starters among some lawmakers.
Still, Ducey may face opposition -- and not just from the Democrats who are unhappy the governor won't require a background check every time a weapon is sold.
Dave Kopp, lobbyist for the Citizens Defense League, said he's not convinced the measure is crafted narrowly enough to ensure the law and the STOP orders are applied only in appropriate circumstances.
But Scarpinato said the heart of Ducey's legislation remains intact, including not just the STOP orders but adding new school resource officers and updating the system that provides information to federally licensed firearms dealers on whether someone is legally entitled to purchase a weapon.
"He's hopeful that the Legislature will pass it,'' Scarpinato said, saying it was developed in consultation with various interests, including the education community and law enforcement. "The ideas that they brought forward are reflected in this bill.''
What's behind the STOP orders is the belief that many of the mass shootings, including those at school, were committed by people who were known to have behavioral or mental health issues.
That includes not only Nikolas Cruz, who gunned down 17 at a Florida high school, but also Jared Loughner, who killed six and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in an incident outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011.
Under this plan, any of a host of people could seek a court order to have someone evaluated. That includes family members, significant others and school administrators -- but not teachers who were included in the original proposal.
The initial evaluation requires evidence of things like "a pattern of threats to cause death or serious physical injury,'' a recent credible threat to kill or injure someone, cruel mistreatment of animals, and a conviction of a violent crime.
Based on that, a judge can order police to pick up the person for an evaluation and take any weapons in plain sight.
Kopp said he has concerns about being able to detain someone and take away that person's weapons based on a finding of danger to self or others. A more appropriate standard, he said, would be a requirement that a court find the person is "at significant risk of causing death or serious physical injury.''
Kopp also is reviewing the provisions for how long someone can be held -- and how quickly someone who a court determines is not a danger gets back his or her weapons.
Under SB 1519, he said, once a STOP order is quashed, then the individual can go to the police agency that seized the weapons and ask for them back.
"Well, why is it now on you?'' Kopp asked.
"The state was quick enough to take your guns away,'' he said. "Shouldn't it be on the state to get them back to you?''
Ducey likely needs the support of virtually all the Republicans in the Legislature as Democrat backing is lacking.
One key issue is a demand by Democrats for universal background checks. Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said it makes no sense to prohibit licensed firearms dealers from selling weapons to someone who is the subject of a STOP order when that same person could buy one from an individual at a gun show.
Ducey has flatly rejected expanded background checks.
Democrats also are lukewarm to the idea of more school resource officers, suggesting the solution to campus violence is not having more people with weapons on school grounds.