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STUDENTS LAST: The state budget, already facing a potential $500 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, took another shot last week, when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Edward Burke ruled that lawmakers couldn't divert $90 million from school repair funds to balance the budget.

Earlier this year, lawmakers defended the diversion from the Students First program (which left just $38 million available for fixing problems in all public schools statewide), saying that schools couldn't spend the money anyway because they couldn't find enough contractors to do the work. But attorney Tim Hogan of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, who filed the mid-'90s lawsuit that forced the original creation of Students First, says the state's own formula requires them to pony up the whole $128 million--along with another $61 million that got diverted to balance the budget last year. Even if the schools can't spend the money--and Hogan maintains there are plenty of problems that need fixing--the law requires the money go into an account that can be tapped in the future.

Despite the court decision, which the state will appeal (as it is currently appealing a similar decision that went Hogan's way last year), Hogan fears Gov. Jane Dee Hull and the Legislature are likely to try to raid the remaining the $38 million in the building renewal fund, as well as stripping money from soft capital that pays for schoolbooks and other supplies. He says he'll ask the court to freeze school funding altogether if the Legislature fails to properly fund the formula.


SICK AND TWISTED: Pima County's bumbling Board of Supervisors and bureaucrats are entertaining a plan to convert Kino Community Hospital into a psychiatric hospital while retaining the busy and necessary medical clinics. Why? Kino's 126 beds could be filled with psychiatric patients. Already half of the beds are full of psychiatric patients while only a handful are used by medical-surgical patients.

This is hardly a way to cap the silver anniversary at Kino, where docs, nurses and techs provide excellent care to an often poor and acutely sick population.

Kino's financial losses are indeed great, more than $100 million in eight years. County administration and the daily media understated the losses by more than $30 million by not counting money that is budgeted for losses. Example: Kino's budget is $60 million, revenues are $55 million, so the county budgets $5 million to cover that shortfall. And while revenues fall even shorter, say to $50 million, the county only reports that initial $5 million subsidy.

Kino is not without problems, nearly all due to its arrogant, turnstile and ineffective administration. A big chunk of the money loss is from the chronic inability of Kino's high-priced management to bill insurers, Medicare or the state indigent health care plans, AHCCCS and KidsCare. There also is the county's chronic inability to send patients to Kino.

And here's some cold hard reality to the politically correct who pushed through the tobacco tax and sweeping health care propositions. Tobacco tax grants have been rescinded, resulting in a loss of $1 million. Proposition 204 has had an adverse effect on Kino, actually reducing the number of patients.

Kino Administrator Scott "Flow-Chart" Floden did nothing to soothe employees or the community last week. He even had police arrest Ray Figueroa, a longtime rep for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers. Figueroa's crime? Attending one of those sessions that, at Kino's cafeteria area, was essentially open to anyone who happened to be getting a cup of coffee.


WRITTEN OFF: Write-in candidates are complaining that they weren't included in the collection of campaign statements mailed out by the Citizens Clean Elections Committee.

C.T. Revere of the Tucson Citizen--or is the Arizona Daily Star now?--tracked down some write-ins who whined that they weren't included in the pamphlet, a mostly useless collection of blather from candidates. These sure losers are griping that they face a distinct disadvantage as a result of the omission.

Oh, shut up. If you can't it together to gather enough signatures to get your name on the ballot, you've got nothing to complain about.

Making it even worse is the fact that most of the neglected write-in candidates were from the Libertarian Party, for cryin' out loud. Aren't they the guys who say government shouldn't be in this business in the first place?

Next time, they should get off their butts and collect the paltry number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot. Of course, they'll still get their ass kicked, but at least they'll have shown a minimum degree of respectability.


BUMBLE BEE: After losing the Republican primary for State Superintendent of Public Instruction to Tom Horne last month, former state lawmaker Keith Bee told Democratic nominee Jay Blanchard that he'd be supporting him.

Now, under pressure from GOP officials, Bee is backpeddling from that position, saying he only told Blanchard he'd vote for him, not that he was publicly endorsing him.

Bee is evidently feeling heat from party officials. He told Republican Pete Davis, GOP chairman of District 30, that he asked Blanchard to stop saying he was endorsing him, although Blanchard has already printed brochures touting the crossover endorsement.

Bee added in his e-mail that he'd prefer that "this issue be discussed with those concerned and not get attention from the liberal media."


MCCORKLE FLUNKS: Lisa McCorkle needed mommy's vote to be installed as principal at Dietz Elementary School in December 2000. "If I don't have faith in my daughter, who will?" asked Mary Belle McCorkle when she preserved a quorum of the Tucson Unified School District board to promote Lisa, whose resume was bereft of experience as a principal or assistant principal.

Who's keeping the faith now? Dietz, a stable and once successful little school on the eastside, is now one of 21 TUSD schools labeled "underperforming" by the state Department of Education.

Dietz was not in such sorry shape before Little Lisa took over. The clearest evidence of that is that it was not on TUSD's STAAR school list that Superintendent Stan Paz developed to shore up schools in anticipation of the state ratings.

Don't look for Mommy McCorkle, president of the TUSD Board, to hold her daughter accountable. In fact, Lisa McCorkle has been given every tool for success, from supplies to her own tutor.

Dietz has logged gains in some test scores. First, second and fourth graders made significant gains in reading, writing and math last year in the CCSA tests. The Stanford 9 was not as good. Second through fifth graders at Dietz showed a decrease in reading. And gains in language and math in the last year still showed a decrease from the 1999-00 school year. In the AIMS test for third and fifth graders, Dietz dropped dramatically in reading and writing from 1999-00 levels but made a gain in math.

Faculty at Dietz is on unwritten orders to not complain. But student and parent surveys show that Lisa McCorkle, whose annual pay is $57,128, needs to get out of her bunker, er, office and into classrooms and into meetings with parents much more frequently.

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