Mesa school district approves $562M budget - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Mesa school district approves $562M budget

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2013 11:15 am | Updated: 7:22 pm, Fri Jul 12, 2013.

The Mesa Unified School District governing board approved Tuesday night a $562.3 million budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which began July 1.

The total budget for the district is just about $6 million less than last year’s budget, said Chief Financial Officer George Zeigler.

The bulk of the budget - $372 million – goes toward maintenance and operations funds, money used primarily to fund staff salaries and benefits.

That portion of the budget is $1,050 less than last year.

The district will receive $32.8 million – or a $4.9 million increase – from the state’s classroom site fund. That fund was created by voters in 2000 when they approved a sales tax increase to give more money to education. The money is used to give more to teachers.

The district lost $9.5 million in capital outlay money from the state for the 2013-14 school year. State lawmakers have cut that fund during the economic downturn. Those dollars are to fund textbooks, software licenses, school equipment - like desks and chairs, buses and school vehicles.

In total, the district has cut about $93 million the last few years due to state budget cuts and enrollment drops, Zeigler said.

Zeigler noted the district’s ability to keep within its low textbook budget. Typically, capital funds have been used to buy new books every seven or eight years. But the district has been unable to keep that up with the cuts from the state, he said.

“It has a significant impact on all of us in terms of what kinds of resources we have available for students,” Superintendent Mike Cowan said. “Everyone is looking at a variety of resources – including open source (free, online options). We’re trying that with a biology pilot program to see if that’s a viable option.”

The district is purchasing new math curriculum because of the state’s change to Common Core Standards, he said.

The district estimates its overall tax rate will increase .6784, from 6.8714 to 7.598, Zeigler told the board. The tax rate fluctuates each year based on the district’s assessed valuation, any override or bond approvals from voters and how the Legislature changes the tax burden.

The district’s primary assessed valuation is down 9.0 percent. The secondary assessed valuation is down 8.7 percent.

Mesa voters approved a $230 million bond package in November to buy buses and technology, repair schools and construct buildings where needed.

Even with the tax rate increase, Mesa’s total tax levy is increasing only $150,042, Zeigler said.

A group of community members attended Tuesday’s meeting to express their concern about the published “truth in taxation.”

The “truth in taxation” requires districts to publish information ahead of budget hearings on any adjacent ways funds it plans to use.

“Even if we tax $1, we are required to make a truth in taxation notice,” Zeigler said. “We estimate we would be taxing $663,000 of our primary levy due directly to adjacent ways fund. This is not the budget amount. This is the amount of cash we need to fund our budget in addition to cash carry forward.”

The estimated adjacent ways tax levy last year was $1.42 million.

Zeigler said the district actual adjacent ways budget is $73,000 more than last year, with a total adjacent ways budget of $1.58 million

Adjacent ways funds are used to provide public ways - streets, fire lanes, sidewalks and lights - adjacent to land owned or leased by a school.

One community member expressed concern more money isn’t going to teachers.

Barbara Jackson, a Mesa resident since 1951, is a retired teacher.

“I have seen the Mesa schools grow at the top and I think that’s bothered me. I have not seen the equal amount of the growth at the top be given to the teachers who are actually in the classroom. This increase bothers me. I did not see that it involved the teachers who do the work in the classroom,” she told the board.

Teachers in Mesa did get a raise this year, though they are also seeing an increase in state-mandated retirement contributions, as they have for the past few years.

Cowan said teachers will receive 3 percent more during the upcoming school year. Other bonuses may be available.

Teachers received a 2.2 percent increase last year and a stipend and 1 percent increase the prior year.

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