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Education Lobby

There's a new political wind blowing in Arizona—and it promises to kick up quite a storm.

Frustrated by recent state budget decisions and limits to local control over classroom funding, Scottsdale Unified School District officials and the Scottsdale Parent Council are gearing up to influence school aid legislation.

For starters, 13 district officials, including Superintendent Barbara F. Erwin, have registered as lobbyists so that they can legally try to sway state lawmakers on behalf of the 27,000-student district.

"If you're not a player, you're going to take your hits," said Carol Hughes, the spokeswoman for the district, which is developing its legislative agenda.

Bolstering the district's effort, the parents' group has recruited a stay- at-home father to register as a lobbyist so that he can officially speak for the group.

Suanne Rudley, the president of the council, said that the legislature's budget actions earlier this year caused so much concern that the group decided to expand its mission to actively lobby legislators in Phoenix.

Traditionally, the parents' group holds workshops and monitors legislation for its members. Ms. Rudley said the council was inspired to expand that role after this year's chaotic state budget debate, which at one point included discussion of $250 million in K-12 spending cuts.

"As parents see fewer teachers, bigger classes, and fewer resources, it's a great opportunity to make the link between what goes on in the classroom and the legislature," she said.

Then there was the confusion over who was responsible for teacher layoffs this past spring. The layoffs in Scottsdale and other districts for the 2003-04 school year were eventually rescinded, after a final state budget was enacted and most state aid was preserved.

Ms. Rudley said that the parents' council can help the public understand that the district was simply following state mandates. That could mean, she hopes, that angry residents don't cool to the local schools because of actions that are out of the district's hands.

As the council's legislative liaison, Eric Meyer will soon register as a lobbyist. It's a new role for the physician, who has left the examining room to focus on the home front while his wife, also a physician, works. "It's not the school district or board, but what happens at the legislature that determines funding, testing, and bilingual education issues," he said. "That's where we have to go."

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 23, Issue 2, Page 18

Published in Print: September 10, 2003, as State Journal

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