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SEPARATE AND STILL UNEQUAL

Betcha didn't know that TUSD's bond package--the one that promoters tout as strictly for the academic opportunity of the children--includes a $3 million parking garage for Tucson High School.

That's a low-ball estimate. None of the propaganda from TUSD or the powerful pro-bond bond committee, BEST 2004, has broken down the full costs for this adventure in University of Arizona parking envy.

There is, so far, no full accounting for the cost of land or the size and cost of the garage. More disturbing, there is no accounting for the finance charges on this $3 million waste buried within the proposed $235 million bond that goes to voters Nov. 2.

Financed for 15 years at an optimistic 5.5 percent, the garage construction will cost taxpayers more like $5 million. And TUSD may use a 20-year float on the bond sale that includes the garage. Among local governments, only Pima County has been smart enough to keep financing down to 10 years.

Then there will be operating costs. Don't think for a moment that TUSD can just have Tucson High kids park anywhere in the garage--or drive in, for that matter--without adult supervision.

But, as bond and override pimps tell us, "Don't Forget the Children."

The garage will be a can of worms for TUSD as it clings to its $62 million-year desegregation effort. Tucson High is a magnet school. This garage will no doubt put the other schools at disadvantage. Then all schools will need a garage.

This coveted extravagance at Tucson High is on par with $70.5 million in as-yet-to-be-specified construction for physical education and interscholastic fields, courts, bleachers, scoreboards, locker rooms and practice gyms. Memo to voters: Those are wonderful things. Sports were the only thing that kept some of the bozos at The Skinny in school. But these facilities are proposed at a time when not only TUSD enrollment is steadily declining, but as participation in sports is declining. And everyone knows there are scant PE requirements.

The BEST 2004 committee spent nearly $108,000 through Oct. 13, according to the most recent financial disclosure filed with the county Division of Elections. More than $61,000 of that has gone to advertising shills at the Nordensson Group, according to the report. Another $24,000 has gone to political hustlers Pete and Carol Zimmerman.

But even this we-know-what's-best-for-you committee is in the red. It got off the ground only with an $80,000 loan. Guarantors, according to the disclosure: schlock homebuilder Bill Estes Jr. , former Major Leaguer and development consultant Eddie Leon and Robin Hiller, the wealthy Sam Hughes Neighborhood gadfly and onetime aide to former City Councilwoman Molly McKasson, a Democrat.

Estes, who served on a TUSD management and budget committee a few years back, should raise alarms for voters all over town. Before unloading his sticks-and-stucco homebuilding company to KB Home, Estes did his best to fill TUSD with crummy neighborhoods. His handiwork is a key reason TUSD, if you believe it, is in financial trouble. Growth, or at least the kind Estes perpetuated, obviously did not come to close to paying for itself.

Meanwhile, TUSD board President Joel T. Ireland kicked in a paltry $200 to the BEST 2004 committee. Ireland and Estes go way back. Ireland successfully engineered a vote 11 years ago to buy land--contaminated with radon--for a phantom southwest high school. The property is near an Estes subdivision where one of Ireland's brothers was peddling homes.

On the board for 16 years, Ireland is so desperate for another term that he dumped $3,184 of his own money into his campaign that, according to the latest financial report, has burned through all but $900 of $23,553 raised. Dear voter, please ask yourself why Ireland, a preacher and lawyer, or anyone would spend $3,184 for a job that doesn't pay.

The most class in the line of TUSD candidates has been shown by one-term incumbent Judy Burns. No signs and no sucking up for contributions.


OVER THE RAINBOW

Big-time New York architect Rafael Viñoly breezed into town recently to present his preliminary ideas for the design of the UA Science Center, the gigantic new museum that's to be the centerpiece of Rio Nuevo. He literally went over the heads of his rapt audience at the TCC, stunning them with a breathtaking proposal to suspend the science museum in the air.

Soaring high above Interstate 10 and the dry ditch of the Santa Cruz, the new museum would dangle from a giant suspension bridge shaped like an ellipsis and shimmering in metallic rainbow colors. The bridge's arch would begin on the east bank of the river, somewhere near the convention center, and end on the west side, near other proposed museums and the planned archaeological park and reconstructed Convento. Some of the museum's attractions, which are to include everything from a Unispherium to a butterfly vivarium, would be anchored on terra firma, but others would dangle from the suspension cables. Pedestrians could walk across the bridge on an outdoor path 24 hours a day.

"The rainbow is the picture that we want," Viñoly said, exhibiting a photo of a desert rainbow arching over a rural Arizona road. He also took a lesson from a natural rock bridge in Utah, and even from a Tohono O'odham prayer that begins, "The rainbow is the pathway/to the realm of the spirit."

The Skinny loves genius international architects as much as the next guy. And we hate playing earthbound Kansans to his Oz, but down here in Kansas we have some questions. Would the giant swoop interfere with our beloved views of the Tucson Mountains? And would it be even remotely possible to pay for the whole thing with the current museum budget of $96 million, most of it public money? Right now the plan is for Rio Nuevo to kick in about $20 million, for the university to take out about $51 million in bonds, and for hoped-for donors to supply the rest.

And would it be rude to ask again why, exactly, a university beset with intractable financial problems is going into the monument-building business? The UA routinely squeezes hundreds of undergrads into overcrowded lecture halls, raises its tuition each year and goes for years without giving even cost-of living raises to faculty and staff. And why, exactly, is the UA so hot to shut down Flandrau Planetarium and Science Center and replace it with the sexy new science center? Many of the city's schoolchildren set foot on campus for the first time ever when they're taken to Flandrau on school trips. Could it be that this quaint enterprise of opening kids' eyes to the possibility of a university education has fallen victim to the UA's rapacious real estate wars?


MODEER ON THE CATWALK

Tucson Water Director David Modeer, no stranger to the lights and cameras of self-promotion, is modeling for the city's top job that will be vacated at year end by James Keene.

Predictably, Modeer is making the rounds of council ward offices to seek the votes to succeed Keene. He only needs one more. He is a favorite of Republican Mayor Bob Walkup, Republican Vice Mayor Fred Ronstadt and their Democratic ally, Carol West. Only the easily twisted arm of Republican Kathleen Dunbar needs a turn.

And as far as the smoke Dunbar and Democrat José Ibarra blew last week about longtime Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry abdicating to take the top spot at City Hall: It'll never happen.

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