Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's Good to Know the Right People...

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2008 at 3:57 PM

Who knew that when former Tucson Citizen staffer Ann-Eve Pedersen started Tucson Unified School Supporters—in what would become a successful effort to challenge the Tucson Unified School District’s school-closure plan—that it would inevitably bring her brother-in-law Paul Eckerstrom back to political life?

Eckerstrom, a former Pima County Democratic Party chairman, is often credited with getting the party’s act together earlier this decade. He’d planned on running against County Attorney Barbara LaWall in the Democratic primary this year, but Eckerstrom had a change of heart, as The Skinny reported back in January.

How lucky for TUSS and Pedersen.

Eckerstrom was introduced by Pedersen at a TUSS meeting on Sunday, Aug. 17, as the campaign chair for the latest TUSS effort: supporting Proposition 403, an override bond package that will ask voters in November to increase their property taxes to get more funds into TUSD.

The last time TUSD asked voters to approve an override was in 2004—and that proposition failed. Back then, however, TUSD didn’t have Pedersen and TUSS.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, before introducing her brother-in-law, Pedersen explained that the new override package will provide almost $27 million in additional funding to TUSD every year for the next seven years. The increase in property taxes, according to TUSS e-mails, will cost average homeowners, with a home assessed at $151,000, about $120 a year in property taxes.

Pedersen gave everyone the Prop 403 pitch: It would allow TUSD to keep class sizes down for K-2 students and middle school math students; expand Opening Minds Through the Arts (OMA) to all TUSD schools; and recruit hard-to-fill positions, like math and science teachers, as well as special-education teachers and staff.

“I want her to succeed,” Pedersen said, referring to TUSD’s new superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, who replaced Pfeuffer in July. “I don’t think she can do it without our support. I don’t want to be (in front of the school board) every year to fight over the scraps.”

Celania-Fagen gave her own presentation at the meeting, but quickly left before the TUSS prop-campaign kickoff. (By law, TUSD and its staff cannot campaign for the override.) Celania-Fagen began with a multimedia presentation that showed teachers in cinema, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Dead Poet’s Society.

It’s the same presentation that she’s been showing to teachers throughout the district, and the buzz is that it’s earning Celania-Fagen standing ovations. She is using it to tout her vision for TUSD and the possibility of creating schools that have different specialties to compete against charter schools—and as an alternative to closing schools.

TUSS is saying the override could also help prevent the school-closures mess from returning. And most likely, Pedersen and Eckerstrom figure that if the teachers like Celania-Fagen and her presentation so much, so will voters.

The final pitch was all about donations: TUSS has $23,000 in the bank, and needs $177,000 more to get to its $200,000 goal.

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