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STUDENTS WORST: It took lawmakers years to craft a method for financing school construction and maintenance after the state Supreme Court ruled the old system of depending on local property taxes to be unconstitutional. And that solution, dubbed Students First, is now turning out to be a disaster in its own right.

Last year was bad enough -- the Legislature set up a stingy formula for construction and maintenance and then proceeded to fail to even fully fund that, providing only about $75 million for more than $100 million in requests.

The situation isn't getting any better this year. The School Facilities Board, the statewide body charged with doling out funds to school districts for building new schools, has voted to deny any money for the Tucson Unified School District to build new schools, despite the fact that some southside campuses are severely overcrowded. So what if the kids are crammed in dilapidated trailers and have to eat lunch in eight shifts because the cafeteria can't handle the crush of students? Under the inflexible formulas which determine whether districts need more money, TUSD just isn't needy enough.

The latest news: we won't even know the final bill for Students First for several more months. Although an estimate was scheduled to be available already, it now won't be available until July. And some folks are estimating the bill will be more than $1 billion, which is about one-sixth of the annual state budget.


GRINNELL VS. CARROLL? UA sports impresario Dave Sitton apparently couldn't be suckered into challenging Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll -- so now the Growth Lobby is looking to recruit Republican Rick Grinnell into the race. We're told Grinnell has the backing of real-estate heavy Joe Cesare and restaurateur Bob McMahon.

Earlier this year, Grinnell, who has lost his last two bids to capture the Ward 2 City Council seat, was an on-again, off-again candidate for the House of Representatives in District 13, until current state Rep. Kathleen Dunbar (who is laying the groundwork for her own run for state Senate against fellow D13 Rep. Andy Nichols) ordered him to stay out of the race. Grinnell has followed orders and is now looking at the Board of Supervisors, although he'll have to relocate from District 1, where he now resides.

The Skinny hears Grinnell is telling people he can raise six figures for a credible run. Carroll hasn't done much fundraising yet, but he has spent a lot of time and energy building a base in the Republican Party by working both the party circuit and several high-profile campaigns. Grinnell will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to topple Carroll, whose maverick image helped him beat GOP establishment candidate Brenda Even in 1998.


SUPERINTENDENT WANTED: The city's three main school districts are looking for superintendents: King George Garcia is leaving TUSD; Queen Mary Garcia, George's wife, is leaving Sunnyside; and Robert "Bubba" Smith is out at Amphi.

Topping the list of five finalists at Sunnyside is Raul Bejarano, the outgoing superintendent of the Nogales school system -- a tough job. Bejarano would be a great fit at Sunnyside. He's smart, fair and not imperious. Also on the list is Abel Morado, one of TUSD's bright spots as principal at Santa Rita High School on the eastside. He is the brother of the politically connected Alonzo Morado, who served as an aide during the mayoral term of Tom Volgy and is now a big shot at Wells Fargo Bank.

TUSD has had a consultant at work finding a replacement for George Garcia, who lost out to another Garcia, Carlos, in his dream to be superintendent of the sprawling Las Vegas school district. TUSD also has been busy trotting out Becky Montaño, an assistant superintendent, hoping to get her positioned for the top job. Sorry. Not ready for prime time.

Up at Amphi, The Skinny is told associate superintendent Katie Frey is angling for the top spot. But the replacement for Bubba ought to be on hold pending the outcome of the recall election on May 16, when long-suffering Amphi voters will get the opportunity to dump Amphi's out-of-touch ruling majority of Gary Woodard, Virginia Houston and Richard Scott and replace them with Mary Schuh, Kent Barrabee and Mike Prout.

They will join Amphi's courageous reformers, Nancy Young Wright and Ken Smith, although Smith has been forced to fight in Superior Court to beat back specious claims that he somehow broke state law because his wife, as mandated by Amphi's early retirement program, serves as a tutor, office assistant or substitute teacher up to 20 days a year. Smith, after a three-part hearing over the course of four months, is awaiting a ruling from Judge Kenneth Lee, who had not made a decision as of press time.


LEARN FROM THE MASTERS: So they want to raise the cost of bus fare to $1. Great. That brilliant example of journalistic ingenuity, the Tucson Citizen, recently blamed the move on the Teamsters, saying the City Council was forced into a rate hike because the union demanded higher wages. If that's the case, we have a simple solution, based entirely on the Citizen's fine example in these matters. Why doesn't the council vote to employ all those homeless people selling the Citizen on our roadway medians throughout town? We wouldn't have to pay these poor, pathetic people a damn thing, just let them continue making their miniscule profits selling the paper in-between driving the buses. Costs will go down, and perhaps the Citizen will even move more than 20,000 copies of its pointless product to the unsuspecting working poor who must ride the crappy buses lest they also wind up in the streets hawking an inferior news rag.


DEAD CAN DANCE: We have to hand it to good ol' Jane Amari. The all-new Arizona Daily Star does look different, more newsy and interesting. Of course the type seems smaller, so it'll be an uphill battle for the paper's old-fart readers to digest Jane's peppy new blend. But what does she care if senior citizens have to squint to get their news -- they're all gonna die soon anyway, and it's those new, upscale younger readers she's after.

We like the idea of the photo-heavy feature packages she's dropping in on the front and metro pages, but we think they should be more confrontational, dealing with real issues and personalities in our community.

For example, Sunday's kick-off of a three-part series: No Mexican with an ounce of brains just up from the South 40 wants his kids to be taught in Spanish for more than a transitional period, for chrissakes. What's the advantage in that? Spanish is a richly beautiful language every man, woman and child on earth should be privileged to learn, but forcing kids into bilingual education in our schools? Why not just skip that part and immediately assign them to crappy jobs in the burger industry? If they need instruction in Spanish to mainstream, fine; if they want to learn the language or perfect their knowledge of it, great. But three parts on this bogus issue is way too much.

Also, we don't really care what those rip-off merchants in Nogales, Sonora, have to put up with. We'd much rather see a growth-at-all-costs car dealer like Jim Click square off against an advocate for mass transit; or a critic of cop brutality try to get an intelligent sentence out of our Silent Sam chief of police.

But hey, these are mere quibbles. The most breathtaking thing Jane's done is to forcefully orient the Star more toward Tucson's Hispanic community and somewhat away from the bland Anglo culture that's ruled here ever since the first U.S. sleazeballs came to sell disease-carrying blankets and booze to the Indians. This is a bold move, chiefly because common wisdom in the local newspaper game says Hispanics aren't particularly enthusiastic consumers of printed blather. But why should they be, when all they've had in the past is blanco blah? If this works -- and we doubt it will, given the Star's steep subscription price -- we'll be forced to refer to the Carrot-Topped Crusader as some sort of publishing genius.

She's even fingered a Tucsonenses type toiling in relative obscurity in San Diego to become the Star's first metro-page local columnist for as long as anyone can remember. That's a move that should have been made decades ago. But we hope she's made the right choice -- in his first column on Sunday, Ernesto Portillo Jr. was writing about how his "tears gushed" at the very thought of coming to work in his hometown. Puleeze.

Jane's also beefed up the anemic business section with more reporters, and given it a strong small-business spin. Keep it up, girl, you're certainly on the right track there.

What's not working for us is the stupid Neighbors sections. Admittedly we've only seen a couple of day's worth, but come on, gang, surely you can tell us something we haven't heard before? We're also told by our spies on the northwest side that the Neighbors section for that area, which had been running in the Star for some time, has been savagely chopped to fit the sleek new format, meaning less service for those readers -- a big mistake.

All in all, Jane's probably done as much as is humanly possible to pep up the lazy, bureaucratic beast that was the Arizona Daily Star. We salute her for that, but we're not about to drop our subscription to The New York Times -- unless, of course, she's willing to put a photo of an attractive naked person on the weather page every day. (No offense, Jimmy.)

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