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Schools should be top priority


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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Nick Zeckets

By Nick Zeckets
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 4, 1999
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Tucson has set its priorities for the future, investing in facades rather than meaningful support for the city's youth. The Rio Nuevo construction project has been approved, granting, over time, $320 million to the building campaign. Meanwhile, the Sahuarita school district just voted to deny a seven-year budget override that had yielded the district $233,000 per year. Tucson needs to reassess its goals and divert Rio Nuevo funds to schooling.

Granted, the Rio Nuevo project is not creating any new taxes while the override in the Sahuarita school district required a whopping $25 per year property tax increase. However, the important thing is that there is a lot of money out there that the city government has created out of thin air to fund Rio Nuevo. Diverting moneys to help schooling is a far greater goal than making our quaint downtown look nicer.

Education in the United States is waning. Our students are scoring worse and worse on standardized tests and relative to students from other countries, our pupils are embarrassing. Additionally, teachers in the United States garner salaries lower than garbage men while teachers in Japan are among the most respected professionals in the nation. Japan leads the world in technology. The United States leads the world in obesity.

During my years from kindergarten through senior year in high school in Atlanta, I had the opportunity to attend public, liberal arts and private schools. Georgia is an extreme example, being ranked 49th in the nation in public education, but when students site the word "explode" as an example of onomatopoeia, you know you've got problems.

Here in Arizona, the situation may be a tad better, but we're certainly not popping out Einsteins by the minute. Would-be teachers are realizing the economic hardships of the profession and are opting for other majors in college. Funding for teachers is frighteningly low, and university students are realizing this. Thus, the pool of teachers is decreasing resulting in larger, unmanageable classes and less-qualified teachers.

Studies have clearly shown that students fare far better in smaller class environments with more one-on-one attention. As Sahuarita is losing classrooms and teachers, poorer educations are imminent. Giving funds from the Rio Nuevo project could not only ensure that current standards are maintained, but also better the educational system.

Tucson bureaucrats seem to think that our quality of life will increase considerably if downtown is prettier. That's simply asinine. What would help our quality of life is an increase in education. Smarter students are less likely to be involved in gangs, illegal activities and will most likely participate in community service. Think about it. When was the last time a gang member cited Dostoevsky in his defense on camera? More likely, Snoop Doggy Dog lyrics were cited, wherein killing and mistreatment of women are heralded. So, city hall, where are your priorities?

Closer analysis of the funding would reveal that the business district clearly has control of Tucson. The rich who dwell in their prestigious mansions in the Foothills and commute to downtown for work are behind the legislation. They want nicer looking places to eat their lunches outside. I don't blame them, but how important is that compared to the welfare of the city's children?

Having an IMAX theater would be cool, but imagine how many teachers that could hire. A sea aquarium has obvious weekend benefits, but do transplanted fish supersede needed classrooms? Convention hotels might bring a few extra business functions, but our city has never had no vacancy, and after-school programs could direct would-be vandals towards more rewarding things for both themselves and Tucson.

There it is. The city has made the choice to help the elite. Rich business people who have gained control of the city council are thinking selfishly. As Sahuarita superintendent Jay St. John watches his school district lose teachers and classrooms, the well-to-do are celebrating their makeover.

Hope remains for the children of Tucson, however. As the Rio Nuevo project is in its infancy, the money surely has not been spent. If it's in the bank, it can be diverted to the Sahuarita school district. The number is simply awesome: $320 million. Let downtown revitalize itself, but let the youth of the city become better people, smarter people and leaders for tomorrow. Redirect funds from Rio Nuevo to fund needy Tucson schools.

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