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The Aristocracy is Dead

The Rise and Fall of Citizens for Fair Taxation at CAC

Dominic Savana, Cactus Editor

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Action does not precede urgency. This fact was true of the actions of Citizens for Fair Taxation, and it is true now for the community members that spoke against the propositions of this group. The Aristocracy, as I prefer to call CFFT (Citizens for Fair Taxation), tried to undermine the efforts of this college by changing the leadership before a majority of the public became aware of their motives. They flooded board meetings to voice grievances, and for a while, it seemed as if CFFT was the only voice at Central Arizona College Board Meetings. The strength and integrity of the board members, the courage of the faculty and staff, and the continued success of the students brought a new voice to the forefront of the most recent board meeting. The invective of CFFT fell strongly to the wayside, but a few men and women came to the front of the room to give us the same old statements.

The Aristocracy has made many claims against the college over the past year. At the crux of their crusade was the belief that Central Arizona College was over funded and mismanaged. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth. When it comes to public schools in Arizona, the facts do not lie. Arizona public schools, including public colleges, have struggled in recent years.

The NEA (National Education Association) in their 2014 review, found that per capita state government expenditures the State of Arizona concerning education ranked 48th in the nation; this rank was consistent at a local government level. Both of these expenditures were well below the national average, which rests around the 30th rank. One would think that Citizens for Fair Taxation would advocate for Arizona schools to be closer to the national average in education spending because; 1.) it would lessen the increase of local taxes and 2.) they should care dearly about the success of this college. Since their actions have been so contrary to addressing the needs of the college, the reason they rallied against new tax increases appears to be a lack of appreciation for what this college has done and continues to do for Pinal County. To be fair, the men and women of Citizens for Fair Taxation firmly suggest spending does not correlate with quality. Surely then, Arizona must have ranked higher in other areas besides per capita education spending.

However, in every other category the NEA uses to rank schools, the State of Arizona ranked poorly, as well. Arizona ranked 47th in funding for education programs, 35th in school revenue generated through state funding, 33rd in teaching faculty to student ratio, 28th in non-teaching staff to student ratio, 45th in average salary of instructors, and 46th in percentage change in instructor salary since 2003. The categories Arizona ranked high in are number of high school graduates and percentage change in high school graduation rates, 6th and 1st in the nation, respectively. To put these numbers in context, Arizona currently is generating more high school graduates than ever, which would be great for college growth, if the funding for colleges followed suit. Certainly, Central Arizona College is not exactly the same as the numbers for the state, on a whole. Arizona State University has a larger faculty to student ratio, for example. State universities bring certain numbers up; community colleges alone would rank around the national average if not higher than the national average in some categories. But these numbers do provide perspective of the climate of public education in Arizona, and this is not a trend from the past couple years alone. Arizona has seen a tremendous amount of growth since 2003. It was incredible foresight on Central Arizona College’s part to build the Maricopa and San Tan campuses when it did. Central Arizona College expanded to Maricopa and the San Tan Village in 2013 and 2009, respectively. Students were trickling in at first, but the campuses were and are still growing. Today both boast a wide array of classes and have fostered many successful students including All-Arizona Academic Team winners.

This never concerned the Aristocracy. For CFFT members that have children, they’ve graduated or they do not attend Central Arizona College. For the members that do not have children, their stake in CAC’s success, and thus the students’ successes, is even lower. This is not meant to be coy; it is the truth. When one has a stake in something, it is a bit harder to work against that interest. The clear interest of Citizens for Fair Taxation members is to remove the ability of the college to increase property taxes as a way of increasing funding. Killing tax increases was the urgency of this special interest group, but it didn’t bother many of these men and women that Arizona’s education system was struggling under massive budget cuts for community colleges. Citizens for Fair Taxation only began to rally when the onus of footing the bill for public college fell to the local government. If CFFT had acted in conjunction with the college sooner to fight state level education spending cuts, local tax increases may not have been necessary to make up for the funding lost.

It was around this time last year that Citizens for Fair Taxation decided if their influence could not change the votes of the board members, they would just have to change the board members themselves. In a strong show of anti-democracy, petitions for recall elections promulgated through Pinal County to remove only the members of the board who had voted for the $2.30 per $100 assessed valuation of property taxes in June of 2015. Rita Nader’s seat for district 4 was successfully recalled, and instead of placing the burden on the college to pay for a recall election, Mrs. Nader stepped down and allowed Superintendent Jill Broussard to appoint a new board member.

Citizens for Fair Taxation have made it no secret that they intended to remove Rita Nader, and they still intend to remove Board President Gladys Christensen, to establish a majority voting bloc on the Board of Governors. This group, created for special interest purposes, masquerading as the best interest of the community, lost all hope of removing the hard working men and women of the governing board when their tactics for creating change became known to a majority of the public. Most of Pinal County supports the endeavors of the college. CAC has long been the only promise for a brighter future for the graduating students of Pinal County. The network created by the college in both private and public sectors is an invaluable resource that cannot be jeopardized.

At the recent board meeting in Aravaipa, some CFFT members stood to voice their concerns without vitriol; others continued their usual tirade against the board, but the majority of the voices came from community members, faculty, staff, and students. Nearly fifty voices spoke in support of Aravaipa campus and all the accomplishments that have been made in the Copper Corridor. In the face of a massive, overwhelmingly positive coalition in support of the college, members of the Aristocracy trickled out before the Call to the Public was even close to finished, some declined to speak altogether, realizing beyond a shadow of a doubt that Central Arizona College is loved by the people of Pinal County.

After the Call to the Public, Board President Gladys Christensen took a minute to address the room, “The Board has no intention of closing Aravaipa Campus.” A shockwave of applause and mirth permeated through the building. The Aristocracy of Pinal County, Citizens for Fair Taxation, was in that moment a piteous remnant of what they were a mere six months ago.

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