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Parents make difference in state budget talks

Posted at 11:34 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 02:48:12-04

VAIL, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Hundreds of parents in the Vail School district are being credited with making a difference during state budget talks and decisions recently.

Legislators were discussing two major changes that could have affected Vail School District: changes to the way in which districts qualify for new schools and no funding for district sponsored charter schools.

Callie Tippett is part of the Vail Parent Network, she says the mobilized right after they first heard about those changes.

"We literally got in the car that next morning. A group of us went up to meet with whoever we could meet with and while we were driving we were rallying our group," said Tippett.

During budget talks, a small army of more than 400 parents sent more than 11,000 emails to legislators across the state and called legislative offices every day. They urged legislators to fund the charter schools and not change how they would qualify for a new school.

"The folks up there, I think had had it with taking our phone calls," said Tippett.

The plan worked. Eventually, those changes were taken out of the budget.

The school district says without that group of parents, legislators may not have listened. Associate Superintendent, John Carruth, says in the past teachers or district officials would lobby for education, but having an organized group of parents made the difference this year.

"The Vail Parent Network is perhaps the most encouraging thing that's happened in my career," said Carruth.

"We're just doing what mom's do. We're just organized to make sure our kids get the best.," said Tippett.

Carruth says moving forward the parents need to continue to speak up like this for education.

"The long term fix did not occur in this year's state budget, but the long term solution was revealed," he said.

So what would have happened if the parents were unsuccessful? Funding issues, school closures, possible overcrowding.

Legislators were not going to give funds to district sponsored charter schools as they had in the past. Vail has a handful of these schools. The one that could have been most affected is Civano Community School. It currently has a $1 million mortgage, but Vail School District uses charter funding from the state to pay it. Without those funds, the district would need to pay the mortgage with their own budget which could cause the school to close. Those kids would then need to be moved to other Vail schools.

Qualifications for new schools is another problem unique to Vail because of the area's growth. Since 2000 the population there has gone up more than 300 percent according to Over the past five years, they have added 1,500 kids to their schools.

"We have to build new schools every two to three years," said Carruth.

If proposed changes had been made, the district would not qualify for new schools as easily. They would need to show severe overcrowding, like kids attending class in the cafeteria, in order to qualify. The Vail Parent Network helped keep that change out of the budget. The school district has plans to build a new high school in the next two years.

Carruth says this success is only for the next fiscal year. Those changes could be spoken about again during the next budget discussions.