The Skinny

IS OUR CHILDREN LEARNING? The most dismal news from the latest round of AIMS testing: 80 percent of Arizona eighth graders didn't pass the math portion of the exam.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who promised to uphold the AIMS standards while on the campaign trail last year, is now suggesting that the test might need a little more revision.


Horne's now promising to make the math test more "reasonable," but says he won't be dumbing it down. We're not sure we understand the difference, but we agree that the current standards seem set a bit high, since most eighth-graders aren't down with subjects like calculus, which appears on the test. Plus, the kids had to score 78 percent to meet the math standards, while other subjects require a score of 68 percent.

More troubling in the long run are two other points:

First, the AIMS results, combined with a few other factors, will decide which schools are classified as underperforming, which could lead to a takeover by the state. That raises a simple question: Who are these geniuses who can turn a school around with the same resources that the current administrators have--and why aren't they running the schools already?

Secondly, the results weren't all that hot among high-school sophomores, either; more than half failed math in most districts in Southern Arizona. Then again, the kids knew that they didn't have to pass AIMS to graduate, so maybe they just played a connect--the-dots game on the exam.

The real test will come with this year's sophomore class, which will have to pass AIMS in order to graduate in 2006--a deadline that has already been delayed years from the original goal.

Horne has already ruled out the idea of allowing kids to do an in-depth project that would, when combined with a successful academic record, allow kids to earn their diploma. So unless this year's crop shows sharp improvement, Arizona's graduation ceremonies could get a lot shorter.

And when the parents of these kids realize their kids aren't graduating after four years of high school, Tom Horne and Arizona lawmakers may just get a lesson of their own.

HOLY HOLLYWOOD MOSES! Now that Judge Roy "Moses" Moore has failed in his jihad to keep his monument to the Ten Commandments inside the 'Bama judicial building, it might be time for the Arizona Legislature to consider removing our own 10-C tablet from government property.

At least since 2001, church-state separation enforcers like the Arizona branch of the American Atheists and the American Civil Liberties Union have taken issue with the giant stone tablet--as tall as a man, and as wide as his wingspan--that sticks out like a sore palm within the Wesley Bolin Memorial Park among memorials to men and women who sacrificed their lives for the good of the people.

Under state law, there is no way to justify the monument. According to Arizona Revised Statute 41-1363, the only monuments allowed within the governmental mall are "in recognition of or honoring a person, group, entity or event." If the relic from the '50s were to be proposed today, it would fail, seeing as an inanimate object is not included within these categories.

However, it would be interesting to hear what the state Historical Advisory Commission dug up about the "historical intergrity" of the monument, a requirement under state law.

Perhaps it could be justified another way. The only record of the monument in state files, at least that The Skinny could dig up, is a two-page document kept in a manila folder inside a file cabinet within the Capitol groundskeeper's office. It includes a brief description of the monument and a photocopy of a 1950s news article reporting its unveiling. Here's what it explains: The tablet was erected by the Fraternal Order of Police as part of a national promotional campaign to coincide with the release of Cecil B. DeMille's insta-classic film, The Ten Commandments.

Yeah, that's right--if anything, it's a monument to a film starring Charlton Heston.

And yet, a whole bunch of legislators have come out in defense of the statue, including Senate Minority Leader Jack Brown, Sen. Mark Anderson, Rep. Wally Straughn, Rep. Linda Gray, Rep. Clancy Jayne and Rep. Phil Hanson. Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Napolitano, possibly because she's taken enough flak over monuments and memorials this term, has decided to sit this one out.

SAY HEY, RAY: Sugar Ray Carroll bitches periodically about county spending, which has gone from $742.5 million in 1998 to $1.03 billion this year, a 35 percent increase. And he has vetoed a county-wide sales tax of a penny per every $2 purchase.

But he took a dive on taxes this year. Even with the same rate, the county is raking in $20 million more in property tax revenue this year.

Pima retains bragging rights as Arizona's highest tax county by keeping its taxes at a rate that means a $550 bill on a $100,000 home. From that home's tax payment, $407 is needed to feed daily county operations. Only Pinal ($445) and Gila ($441) counties have higher primary tax rates for operating expenses. But those counties lack Pima's panoply of taxes, according to a compilation by the pocket-protector wonders at the Arizona Tax Research Association.

Put that $100,000 home in Cochise County, and the total county tax bill is $345. And in Maricopa County, it is just $155, or just 28 percent of Pima County's burden.

That's the part that the lunch-taking glad-handers at Greater Tucson Economic Council and their stooge political patrons never understand. Let The Skinny get all conservative on ya: A business property valued at $250,000 in Pima County will pay $3,437 this year. A similarly valued commercial property in Phoenix will pay $968.

CLASSICAL GAS: When he was done parading around City Council chambers, Ted "Get To Know Me" Downing had a pertinent thing to say about the reporting abyss from the layered jurisdiction and inspections of fuel pipelines, such as the Kinder Morgan line that ruptured on Tucson's westside on July 30.

Downing, a Democrat and freshman state representative, said it may be time to "make law" to force public release of the reports of inspections done for the feds (Office of Pipeline Safety under the Department of Transportation) by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

At last week's council meeting, Downing was a whirling dervish. He was so at home yaking it up with council members that he had to be ushered away from the council table as the meeting was to begin. He then darted over to the lone television talking head in the room. But give Downing some props: He did press for release of the inspection records.

Council discussion, brought to you by Democratic Councilman Steve Leal, advanced one plan to have the fire chief and other emergency officials briefed about inspections. Leal also is pushing to use records of all pipelines to guide construction and zoning.

Downing incurred the wrath of Marc Spitzer, the Republican chairman of the Corporation Commission. Speaking at a Phoenix press conference and locally on the John C. Scott Show (KTKT 990 AM), Spitzer said Downing was attacking the ACC as a "surrogate" for state Rep. John Laredo, D-Phoenix. Spitzer said Downing was worse than a "clown" for laying fault with the ACC staff to catapult Laredo into a run for a seat on the Corporation Commission.

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