Sun City Disease

Every 10 years, retirement communities sweat local school-funding increases and flare up in anti-tax fever. This year's infection is in the Dysart Unified School District.

Jesus de la Garza is a man of extraordinary dignity, and he speaks calmly in the midst of a battle that could cost him his job. He had trusted the former district finance manager to do his job, and he and the board made the budget cuts according to the figures he provided, and he trusts Hammond to do his job as well.

"You work out a situation so that you can make the best possible decisions," he told New Times. "I've compounded the problem with my inexperience, and I accept the responsibility."

But he points out that some of the new numbers leaking out of the ledgers are apples and oranges, monies that have to be spent in certain ways--the donations, for example, come with specific requests.

"The figure that Mr. Koch came out with is incredible to me," he says. "I'm caught between two sets of figures with no way of confirming either."

The board and administration have contracted with a consulting firm to iron out the discrepancies and tell them exactly which figures are correct. For better or worse, that report will probably be finished by the March 10 election.

Robert Koch feels vindicated by the discovery--the suspicions of the senior community proved partially true--though it still doesn't justify the community's wishes to deannex. There's no telling how the recent discoveries will affect the deannexation election, if at all. It will not likely pass, though Pam Justice's recall seems certain.

Koch and Nelson and Parker all claim that they intend to stay on the board even if deannexation fails and the Legislature knocks down bonding as a finance method. That remains to be seen. They don't have an answer to what they would do if bonding remains a part of the overall package and they as board members realize that school construction can't be put off any longer and they'll have to go to their Sun City West constituencies to ask for votes and money.

"I think they realize this deannexation vote will not go through and that they're going to be stuck on that board," says Surprise Mayor Joan Shaefer. "So it's going to be, 'Let's make you as miserable as we can and we're going to prove we're right and you're wrong.'"

She calls the deannexation move "a cancer of education." In fact, the initiative is being studied by senior communities in other parts of the country.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan sums it up.
"We seem to be in this era now where unless it affects me personally, I'm not interested. If that's the case, you're going to have more and more Dysarts out there, more and more cases where people say, 'It's not my child and I'm not going to support this.'"

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: mkiefer@newtimes.com

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