Guest Column: School this educator on FTF facts

Superintendent Riley Frei makes some interesting claims about Rep. Sonny Borrelli's bill to transfer millions in cigarette taxes from a private non-profit, "First Things First" (FTF). First he calls Borrelli's op-ed "bluster (that) ...hides the truth about a bad bill."

Frei complains that Sonny didn't contact the local educational council, headed by him. Frei then blames parents for not preparing kids "to be successful," but defends FTF by saying they provide "quality child care and preschool, preventative health and parenting education."

Now that sounds all well and good, if it were accurate. But Supt. Frei ignores important facts in his criticism of Borrelli, and that, as they say, is the rest of the story.

First, people may not recall that FTF was approved by the voters in 2006. Due to an "inadvertent" typographical error, the original 8 cents per pack tax became a whopping 80 cents! Instead of $12-18 Million, FTF receives ten times as much; not bad for a typo! Riley conveniently ignores that little known tidbit.

Then Frei claims that overhead is only 8 percent, not the authorized 10 percent. Unfortunately, Arizona's GAO watchdog reported on Arizona's OpenBooks.gov, that FTF spent $26.5 million on overhead, 17 percent of its revenue in 2015.

I meant to say: "figures supplied by FTF", because until recently they refused to have their books audited by the state. This summer, their first audit will be made public, which begs the question, "What are they trying to hide?"

Maybe it's the outrageous $364 million fund balance, or that they've given $75 million to United Way. Maybe Mr. Frei (and FTF) doesn't want you to know that 107 full-time employees receive $60-100K in salary and benefits?

Perhaps Supt. Frei doesn't want us knowing he's the chairman of LaPaz/Mohave County FTF Council he expected Borrelli to meet. Doesn't that conflict with his duty as the school superintendent, which should want more money in the classroom? Just who does he represent, Bullhead City schools or First Things First?

Neither Frei nor Borrelli can decide whether $100 million should be given directly to schools versus funding a bloated FTF. In fact, over $500,000 would go to BHC/Mohave Valley schools. If Sonny's plan is presented and approved by the voters, First Things First would still see $25-40 million in revenues, plus have the $360 million war chest.

Other state and federal programs already provide children's health and early education programs. Yet FTF wants more. Until now, they have been unaccountable, unmanageable, and even arrogant in their spending of millions in tax dollars. There's an incestuous relationship between unions, education advocacy groups and First Things First. There's a powerful incentive for groups like Expect More Arizona to condemn any proposal upsetting their power, directing the money to real needs.

There's one simple question: you want to see an additional $100 million directed into the classrooms, under local school control; or do you prefer the status quo of questionable spending? Sonny's bill gives you a voice to decide.

Rep. Borrelli, major businesses, educational organizations and educators want precious tax dollars redirected to classrooms, not to bloated bureaucracies. Sonny simply wants to improve the literacy of children. And that's no bluster.

Robinson is the Mohave County Republican Party's District 1 Director (Kingman/Golden Valley).