Governing boards of East Valley school districts are in the process of passing proposed budgets for the next fiscal year — which began July 1.
These budgets are confusing, at best. And they’re ever changing, with several votes throughout the next few months, and the final budgets not voted on until next spring since state law allows them to be changed.
What it means for property owners and their tax bills depends on where they live and what’s happened with their property value.
The school districts are required by law to estimate their tax rates for next year, and some are very good at figuring out what it will be. But it’s the county Board of Supervisors that will set the rates in August.
All the East Valley school districts are estimating tax rate increases — at least a little bit.
But budget officials say a large part of that is because property values have dropped and tax rates need to be increased for school districts to collect the same amount of money.
Arizona district schools are limited to a spending formula created by the state that uses enrollment figures.
Once a district’s spending limit is set, where that money comes from is determined. Districts receive some of it in the form of state aid, with the rest allowed by the limit made up from property taxes.
In some cases, districts have a primary rate and a secondary rate.
The primary rate is set using the state formula. The secondary rate is determined on the amount of bond or override dollars that have been approved by voters. While all districts have a limit, voters can — and often do — approve overrides that allow them to tax themselves to provide some additional money.
Both tax rates are used calculate a person’s tax, based on the value of a person’s property.
Schools just make up a portion of the bill — with municipalities, the state equalization tax and special districts also making up a portion.
So if the tax rate goes up, but the property value goes down, a tax bill this year may look very similar to a tax bill from last year.
For example, the Mesa Unified School District reports that the property values in the district have dropped overall about 13 percent.
So while the district is calculating a slight increase — 13 cents per $100 of assessed valuation — many people will see a drop in their tax bill when it arrives after the September and October mailings.
Mesa district CFO George Zeigler gave an example during Tuesday night’s board meeting using a home assessed at $100,000. Last year, that home would have been assessed at about $115,000. So with the drop in property values, that homeowner would actually see a $69 savings this year.
The board passed the budget by a 5-0 vote, with no one from the public speaking during the budget hearing.
That was not the case in Gilbert, where several people spoke out against the proposed budget last week, and the budget passed with one board member voting against it. The district is also calculating an increase — of about $2 per $100 of assessed valuation.
While it’s a big jump — the biggest in the East Valley — the district saw a tax rate decrease last year. The Gilbert Unified School District’s overall tax rate is actually in the middle of the pack when compared to other East Valley districts. Higley, Queen Creek and the combined Tempe Union High School District/Tempe Elementary School District rates are all estimated to be higher.
Nearly every district in the East Valley is planning to give teachers — and in some cases, entire staffs — about a 2 percent pay increase next year, the first in a while.
All the districts are also seeing additional dollars from the voter-approved classroom site fund. That money is funded through a sales tax approved in 2000. Much of that money goes to pay teachers and staff.
While revenue has been shrinking during the recession, there is an anticipated jump next school year. That tax is set to expire in 2020.
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