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MARICOPA — Proving that elections aren’t over until the last vote is counted, the Maricopa Unified School District maintenance and operations override is now set to be extended another seven years after the final vote update.

MUSD had a close call with a difference of only 76 votes, but it managed to pull out ahead with 4,200 votes at 50.46% in favor of the override and 4,124 votes at 49.54% against. That’s after the votes on election night Tuesday had the override failing by 131 votes.

“We are grateful for the support and confidence of our community. This is an endorsement of the work our teachers and staff do every day,” said Superintendent Tracey Lopeman in a statement. “A special thank you goes to those who supported this effort with your vote and those who gave their time and energy to inform voters of the critical importance of override funding. Because of them, our students continue to benefit from low-class sizes, investments in technology, and the RAM Academy.”

Without the override, the district would have had to reduce funding over three years, cutting about $5 million from its annual operating budget.

MUSD says it uses the override to invest more in schools. It helps keep class sizes small and funds technology and RAM academy, which is a credit recovery and intervention program for at-risk students.

The technology upgrade helped when COVID hit and students and teachers did online learning.

Before the override in 2016, the district had a target between 29-35 students per class for K-5. After 2016, it dropped to between 24-28 students per class in K-5. At the end of the 2019-20 school year, they had a target between 23.5-27.3 per class in K-5.

Teachers can be more effective when dealing with smaller class sizes and connect better with their students.

RAM academy has had more than 100 students graduate. There are many more students combining RAM credit recovery and traditional Maricopa High School classes to graduate, according to the district’s statistics.

Santa Cruz Valley Union High School District lost its override with 445 votes and 48% in favor of the override and with 482 votes and 52% against.

There was a total of 47,571 registered voters with only 9,280 ballots cast for the overrides, an election turnout of 19.51%.

The Rural Arizona Action group, which has been a strong supporter of the overrides, told PinalCentral it is “thrilled” to see the MUSD override continuation pass.

“When education is funded, communities thrive and everybody wins,” said Kevin Smith, RAZA campaign manager. “Smaller class sizes can play a huge difference in a kid’s education and ability to succeed in school and beyond. I don’t think we can underestimate the significance of keeping about 70 teachers and counselors in our schools.”

Analise Ortiz, communications manager for RAZA, said they contacted over 3,500 voters to “encourage them to vote YES on the override.”

“We are dedicated to empowering our neighbors to make our voices heard in the democratic process,” Ortiz said. “This is especially critical when elections directly impact the biggest aspects of our lives, like the quality of our children’s schools. This win will help Maricopa public schools keep class sizes low, invest in technology and maintain an alternative high school graduation program without raising taxes.”

The group’s efforts show that educating neighbors about the important issues in the community can help “make the difference needed to win elections like this.”

“With this being an off-year election, many Maricopans weren’t expecting a ballot to show up in the mail,” Smith said. “Leading up to the election, we informed people on the issues and reminded them to return their ballots in this all-mail election.”

RAZA is a 501(c)(4) political advocacy organization that was founded in 2019. It is based in Pinal County and want to create “more equitable and just systems” with leadership, accountability and advocacy training in the rural Arizona communities.

The group also leads a campaign in Yuma, Coconino and Pinal counties supporting the For the People Act. Advocates say the federal legislation would make voting more accessible, secure and easier for those in rural Arizona and across America.

“We’d like to thank every person who voted yes in support of Maricopa public schools and our staff and volunteers who worked hard for this win,” Ortiz said.

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Kimlye Stager covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at kstager@pinalcentral.com.

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