School Redistricting Law Screw-up: Judge Says Tolleson-area Proposition Fails

Kids, this is why paying attention to the small details is important.

The one school redistricting scheme on the ballot that seemed to have passed in last month's election has been shot down because the state's redistricting law uses the phrase "qualified electors" where it should say "voters."

Martin Schultz (pictured), chair of the state School District Redistricting Commission, claimed in a recent news article that the "intention" of the law was to mean "voters." Using that theory, the referendum to merge several west-side elementary school districts with the Tolleson Union High School District passed by about 53 percent to 47 percent.

Yet in a ruling last week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Burke ended discussion as to whether the spirit of the redistricting law should prevail over the actual language of the law.

The law says only a majority of "qualified electors" can approve redistricting. And qualified electors simply means people who are qualified to vote.

In other words, this election wasn't as simply as it looked to unification supporters.

The hurdle wasn't simply to get more people to vote "yes" than "no." Supporters of unification had the much bigger task of obtaining "yes" votes from more than 50 percent of all registered voters in each affected school district.

But supporters like Schultz didn't realize the law's language made such a difference. When the election results came in, the officials with the redistricting commission believed they had won in Tolleson.

When district officials challenged the results based on the law's wording, Schultz and others who supported unification stuck their heads in the sand.

State Senator Linda Gray, of the unification law's sponsors, told the Arizona Republic last month that Tolleson district officials were "grasping at straws."

In fact, Gray was among the people who could have -- and should have -- caught the "qualified electors" versus "voters" mistake. Sure, the plan is being shot down on a technicality, but Gray, Schultz and their legislative aides have no one to blame but themselves. 

"It was a colossal blunder at the Legislature," State School Superintendent Tom Horne tells New Times. "I'm willing to teach a class in proofreading to (lawmakers)." -- Ray Stern 

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern