Same old issues riding the merry-go-round
Arizona Republic
Jul. 28, 2005

Wanted: a new issue.

I don't know about you, but lately I've been feeling rather dizzy as I try to follow the goings-on around here. Like a dust devil, the issues keep swirling around and around and around. Nothing ever seems to get resolved. Nothing ever seems to go away.

We just keep gagging on the stirred-up dust and wonder whatever happened to . . .

State land reform. A coalition of education and conservation groups last week launched the Arizona State Land Conservation Initiative, a ballot proposal aimed at preserving 700,000 acres of state land, including a sizable chunk in north Scottsdale.

But wait, wasn't 1996 the year of the Arizona Preserve Initiative, a new state law aimed at preserving state land, including a sizable chunk in north Scottsdale? As I recall, that proposal also set out to preserve 700,000 acres but was whittled down to a fraction of that by the time ranchers and developers got done with it.

Then last year, it was scuttled altogether when a pair of property rights advocates complained it wasn't fair to designate some state land as open space. Apparently all property has a right to be carved into mini-malls and gated communities and so the state dropped API, preferring not to fight for it, leaving the preservation efforts of Scottsdale and other cities in limbo.

Official English. The GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year passed a bill that would have designated English as Arizona's official language, requiring that government business be conducted in English. Gov. Janet Napolitano vetoed the bill, saying - not without some justification - that it's not fair to require English when you've long ignored a federal judge's order to adequately teach English. The veto enraged some legislators, who hinted they might just take the issue to voters. Again, that is.

In 1988, Arizona voters approved a constitutional amendment declaring English the state's official language, but it was in court before the ink was dry on the ballots. Two years later, U.S. District Judge Paul Rosenblatt ruled that the law violated the First Amendment rights of public employees. After 11 years of legal wrangling, Arizona's Official English law finally limped into its grave in 1999.

Scottsdale's sixth high school. Superintendent John Baracy began pushing for it even before he took over as superintendent last July. Never mind that voters had stoned a request for $54 million to build a sixth high school three years earlier.

Baracy didn't believe in the need for a sixth high school strongly enough to suggest yanking the district's biggest funding request ever off last November's ballot. That bond called for rebuilding four of the district's five high schools at $50 million a pop, but said nothing about building a sixth one and for good reason. Enrollment was dropping and projections showed the north Scottsdale area would never supply enough students to support a full-service high school.

Despite that, Baracy suggested starting a "transitional" high school for freshmen in an existing building in August 2005, then returning to voters later to ask for the money to build a sixth high school.

He convened a task force of parents to study the issue but they nixed the idea last October, saying they don't want a transitional school unless the money is there to build a real one. So, naturally, Baracy in June proposed the idea of starting a transitional high school for freshman in an existing building in 2006 and asking voters in 2007 to pony up for a sixth high school.

Baracy says new enrollment projections would allow the district to build the school. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that many of those new kids are ones he's bringing in from outside the school district.

It seems one thing to ask Scottsdale voters to subsidize roughly half the cost of an education for students from outside the district when you have existing space. But using them to justify asking voters to hand over $50 million for a new school?

I'd ask him if that's something he believes voters would embrace. But hey, since when has that mattered?

Reach Roberts at or (602) 444-6873