Election pamphlet raises questions

East Valley Tribune
Saturday, November 5, 2005
Andrea Falkenhagen

Voters take note: A publicity pamphlet sent out by the Paradise Valley Unified School District might be misleading.

For Tuesday’s election, district officials compiled information and mailed pamphlets to residents in the district at a cost of roughly $46,000.

The "pro" and "con" statements are written by interested parties, but are not factchecked by anyone at the Maricopa County Elections Office, which printed the pamphlets, said Yvonne Reed, the office’s spokeswoman.

"The message is not altered in any way. As long as they aren’t vulgar, it’s their opportunity to express their opinion," she said. "If they have the wrong figures, the wrong figure has to be printed in there — it’s their opinion."

That irks Scottsdale resident Graham Kettle, who said the information he has received from the Paradise Valley district regarding the possible annexation of his neighborhood has been "inaccurate and misleading."

"The pamphlet omits key information. I think it is scandalous that they did not put the financial information in that. It’s totally wrong when you have an election and you don’t give voters the full information," Kettle said.

The election has four ballot issues: A $161 million bond; a budget override of $9.1 million; a chance to join a Maricopa County program that would expand the number of vocational classes offered in the district; and whether residents of an "unorganized" territory outside Paradise Valley district boundaries should join the district.

As required by law, the district sent information it collected regarding the financial implications of the bond issue and capital override question.

But it was not legally required to include financial implications of a boundary change.

Voters in the unorganized area would see their taxes rise by roughly $2,030 on a $500,000 home if they join the Paradise Valley school district, said Joe Maltagliati, an auditor with the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office.

But a possible domino effect could raise taxes by even more, said Michael Hunter, vice president of the Arizona Tax Research Association. That information should have been presented in the pamphlet, he said.

Besides the omission, the pamphlet also contains contradictory information. Out of four statements, three cite different information about the number of Paradise Valley district students living in the territory, ranging from 150 to "more than 200" to "the majority of" nearly 500 school-age children.

The correct number, as of Thursday, was 181 students, said Judi Willis, spokeswoman for the Paradise Valley Unified School District. The reason for the confusion, she said, was that the enrollment numbers were uncertain during summer, and they can change daily.

But Petra Cervino, a mother who wrote a "pro" statement for the publicity pamphlet, said she worries some children are not being accounted for in the information that is being distributed.

She believes 300 to 500 school-age children live in the area.

Finding information about local elections is difficult, said Bonnie Saunders, president of the League of Women Voters of Arizona.

"I hope they look at the (booklets)," Saunders said. "They are valuable. But I don’t know that we intend for that to be the only thing people read."