Gilbert school board votes against future discussion of budget override - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Gilbert school board votes against future discussion of budget override

Teachers rally outside board room to protest move to 'silence' them

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Posted: Saturday, May 11, 2013 11:47 am | Updated: 7:07 pm, Tue Oct 15, 2013.

The Gilbert Unified School District governing board failed to approve Tuesday night future discussion about placing a budget override renewal on the November 2013 ballot.

The Gilbert board votes on items to be listed under “future consideration” on each agenda.

Board members Lily Tram and Jill Humpherys voted in favor of discussing the override in the future. Board members Daryl Colvin and Julie Smith voted against it.

Board president Staci Burk was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

With the 2-2 vote, the matter will not be placed on a future agenda. A board member could bring it up again.

In November 2012, Gilbert voters turned down a request to renew the district’s maintenance and operations budget override. Districts in Arizona are given funds based on enrollment, but residents can vote to tax themselves to increase that in the form of an override.

To put that matter on a ballot, it must be approved by a school district's governing board.

Gilbert’s override gave the district an additional $18 million a year. With the failure to renew it, the governing board and district leadership are in the process of identifying $6 million in cuts for next school year. Unless the budget override is on November’s ballot, another $6 million would have to be cut for the 2014-15 school year. The same would happen for the 2015-16 school year if the matter is not on the November 2014 ballot.

The board still has a few weeks to approve its budget, with the final budget due to the state Board of Education on July 15. The district is now scheduled to vote on that July 9.

District leaders have presented three ideas to the board in the last few meetings based on input by board members and using preliminary figures since the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer have not finalized a budget for the state for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The three budget ideas -- labeled A, B and C -- use different amounts. All three provide a 3 percent salary schedule increase to teachers that has already been approved by the governing board. Budget "B" gives a slight increase to classified staff and administrators. Budget "C" - as requested by board member Daryl Colvin - includes what would happen if the board chose not to increase the district's primary property tax rate, as it is allowed by the state. If the board approves that plan, the district would need to make another $5.5 million in cuts next year.

Under the presentation Tuesday night by Superintendent Dave Allison, budgets "B" and "C" are still not balanced.

To adjust for the different scenarios, suggestions by district leadership include: a 5 percent to 10 percent cut in school and department budgets, increased athletic fees for junior and senior high school students, making every Wednesday an early release day, increasing class sizes and charging tuition for full-day kindergarten.

Prior to Tuesday's board meeting, about 100 teachers and community members held a rally outside the district office. Many more came for the meeting and packed the board room.

Holding a sign that said, “Pick A, not C,” Diane Wright, Gilbert teacher and parent, said she is concerned about the idea that the board may pass a budget that turns away $5 million the district could receive.

“I’m here as a teacher and parent. Gilbert has been a great school district. I want to be here and I want it to stay that way. I want it to be about the students, not politics,” said Wright, a teacher at Gilbert High School. “They seem to be, on the board, changing what they’ve done in the past. I don’t feel they’re getting the input from parents or teachers.”

A handful of community members spoke Tuesday night in favor of the plan to maintain the current primary tax rate.

“I would like to present to you another side of the coin. Our whole session this evening has been on funding. There are some senior citizens in your community. The funding comes form the senior citizens. We are concerned about your children, your students,” said Harriett Bathman, who asked to see more reports about “how our children are being educated.”

“I want to tell you there is a limit with which you can spend other people’s money. Be careful. We want to see our children educated.”

Director of finance Teddy Dumlao told the board that even with the current projected primary tax rate increase, a median homeowner in Gilbert would pay less tax dollars.

Another board action that’s sparked dismay from teachers is the vote on March 26 to take the decades-old “memorandum of understanding,” or employment agreement with certified and classified staff, and put it into school board policy.

“What’s going to happen is really unclear. We’ve had an MOU for a s long as I can remember. I’ve been there 26 years. It’s always been a document. It’s like an employee handbook, your working conditions. When it goes into policy, it’s no longer our document. The board at will could change it,” said Gilbert Education Association president Diane Drasinski.

It also puts the use of the Interest Based Bargaining team into question. That group – made up of members of the Gilbert Education Association – or teacher representatives, administrators, support staff and a board member – typically sat down in the past and came to a consensus on issues, Drasinski said.

Arizona Education Association president Andrew Morrill spoke to the dozens of teachers who arrived at the meeting early holding signs up and greeting board members as they arrived.

Morrill told the Tribune that the confusion teachers are feeling is, “telling to me because that means the process was working.”

“When decisions are tough and resources are scarce, they model is to come together at the table,” he said. “That’s what the association does. The association is still your best network for knowing what teachers are thinking about. … Instead of embracing that the board took action to silence that.”

Rachel Stafford, a 17-year teacher in the district who works at Mesquite High School and has two children in the district, told the board she knows of more than two dozen employees at her school that have already made plans to leave the district because of "tension" created by the board.

“They’re creating tension where there wasn’t tension. They’re creating tension where there is no need for tension,” she told the Tribune prior to the meeting. “Now after an amicable relationship, three people are trying to create barriers where they never were before.”

In a separate vote, board clerk Smith asked to have a discussion about nondenominational prayer. She and Colvin voted in favor of having that discussion. Tram and Humpherys voted against it.

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