School officials, lawmakers need to follow contract rules
Most people think a promise is a pretty big deal. If you make one, then you had better keep it.
The same holds true for a contract. If you sign one, then you better understand the terms of the agreement and abide by them. It is an even bigger deal than a promise because it is enforceable under the law.
Apparently some Arizona school officials and the state's lawmakers didn't understand the power of a contract, but they received a lesson about it earlier this month from the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Court of Appeals.
The institute, a public interest group based in Arizona, filed a lawsuit against the Cave Creek Unified School District challenging the way it wanted to spend money from a bond issue approved by the voters in 2000. The voters authorized $41 million in bonds to build new schools. But after building two schools, district officials decided they wanted to use the remaining $13 million for other purposes of their own choosing.
That is a serious no-no. The Arizona Constitution sees bond measures as a contract and it has to be followed unless the changes are approved by voters.
The Arizona Legislature ignored that requirement and passed a law in 2010 to allow Cave Creek and other school districts to use the money as they pleased. That, said the Court of Appeals, is unconstitutional. School districts must follow the will of the voters.
It is an important victory for the Goldwater Institute and for the taxpayers of Arizona, and all school districts need to take notice.
Not only is the Cave Creek action unconstitutional, it also undermines the trust of the voters in our electoral system.
The court decision actually will be beneficial for school districts even though it confirms there are limitations on what they can do with bond money.
If unauthorized use of bond money had been supported by the courts, it likely would have short-circuited efforts of school districts to get needed bond money in the future. Why would voters want to continue to support bond issues if they knew school districts could ignore the contract they made with voters? It is already hard enough to get voter support.
Cave Creek could still appeal the ruling, but it would be foolish to do so.
Voters rightly expect that school districts will follow the will of the voters. A contract is a contract and must be followed. We are surprised school officials and lawmakers required the courts to tell them that.