Schools turn to lobbying
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 27, 2006

Want to ensure they are heard

Carrie Watters and Ofelia Madrid

School district lobbyists at the state Legislature are an increasing phenomenon, according to state Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa.

He should know. Nine of 10 Joint Technical Education districts joined forces last summer and hired three lobbyists, in part to campaign against a bill Anderson sponsored for vocational education reform.

The group includes West-MEC, the West Valley's technical education district that includes Phoenix districts Cartwright, Deer Valley Unified, Glendale Union, Paradise Valley Unified and Pendergast Elementary.

"It did raise a few eyebrows when they hired three lobbyists," said Anderson, a 12-year lawmaker. "Then EVIT (East Valley Institute of
Technology) hired their lobbyist. It did seem a bit much. Obviously, they want to make sure their interests are represented at the Capitol."

He questioned the ethics of public entities, including districts, lobbying.

West-MEC officials fronted $17,000 for a lobbyist as part of the vocational district's consortium. Superintendent Greg Donovan said they are dollars well spent at a critical time for vocational education in Arizona.

State legislators in 1990 passed a law to allow districts to pool their resources for vocational education. Legislators like Anderson are now trying to clarify issues like the definition of a vocational education class, which receives greater state funding than a typical class.

Anderson's bill, in part, would require these classes to be 150 minutes, rather than more traditional 50 minutes.

"That doesn't fit any schedule in the state of Arizona," Donovan said.

Vocational districts, through lobbyists, will push the point this legislative session.

Technical education districts aren't the first public school districts to send lobbyists to the state Capitol. Large school districts like Paradise Valley have had lobbyists for years, and the Arizona School Board Association and the Arizona Education Association, the teachers union, represent education interests.

The Deer Valley, Paradise Valley and Pendergast districts also are among the 10 districts making up the Valley Schools Lobby Group, which lobbies for more money for education.

The consortium is just another way to shine more attention on education funding issues, Paradise Valley parent Laurie Smith said.

She is on the Paradise Valley committee made up of administrators, teachers and parents that meets periodically with lobbyist Jim DiCello to discuss legislative issues.

"If they can work with Republican leadership, that makes it all the more likely that the interest of public education will be heard," Smith said.

In Paradise Valley, the School Board recently adopted a broad legislative agenda that includes funding to pay for increased costs in retirement, health care and transportation, support for a phase-in of all-day kindergarten and full funding for the cost of educating English-language learners and special-education students.

Deer Valley also enjoys closer ties to the state Legislature because 15-year governing board member Ted Carpenter is a state representative.

Glendale Union, which has nine high schools in Phoenix and Glendale, does not have a paid lobbyist.

Gene Dudo, the administrator for finance, is the district's designated public lobbyist and heads to the Capitol if there is a bill that would affect the district. He has been there once this legislative session to weigh in on a funding bill for English language learners.