Voters in a wealthy north Scottsdale area that does not belong to any school district refused overwhelmingly Tuesday to join one.
The rejection of the ballot measure means the residents of the 12-square-mile area will be able to continue paying lower taxes than their neighbors who live in the adjacent Cave Creek, Scottsdale and the Paradise Valley unified school districts.
But residents might not have the option to remain out of a district for long.
When a new state senate bill takes effect next year, things will change.
It will be up to the state and Maricopa County School Superintendent Sandra Dowling to enforce Senate Bill 1199, “which will require that all unorganized areas within the state to join a school district or form their own," said Cassandra Perkins, a mother who has led the fight to join the Paradise Valley district.
Perkins said while residents may have rejected the plan this time, she believes joining the Paradise Valley district is still the best option for neighborhood children to have a "first class public education."
However, doing that means residents would also see their taxes rise by roughly $2,030 on a $500,000 home, according to the Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office, which probably played a role in the measure's rejection Tuesday.
If residents join the Scottsdale school district, that same homeowner would pay an additional $1282. Joining the Cave Creek district would cost $682.
The new law states residents can only choose a district where at least 150 students attend. Currently, about 50 children in the area attend Scottsdale schools, and only a handful go to Cave Creek schools. Yet some residents hold out hope for those options. Some residents, who feel they should have been made aware of the senate bill while it was being debated, have even discussed trying to repeal it.
Petra Cervino said that she would continue to fight to annex the area into the Paradise Valley district, where her daughter attends school. Residents already in the district voted 68 percent to 32 percent to allow households in the unorganized territory into the PV district, though that is moot for now because the unorganized territory residents voted the idea down.
"This is not a school tax exemption area for the wealthy," she said. "There are poor people who live in a poorer area of the state and they are scraping dimes together to pay their taxes. Why are these people trying to make this into a school tax exemption for the wealthy? That's really not fair."
Pat Flynn, president of Citizens in Support of Tax Choices, a political action committee that opposed the annexation, said he is offended by the accusation that residents of the unorganized territory do not pay school taxes. They do, in fact, pay school taxes to the county.
"The amount that goes into schools from this area is $3.5 million. That educates between 800 and 1,000 students a year, and we're really proud of that," he said.
Flynn said the outcome of Tuesday's election was “great.”
“It does make you feel good, and it reinforces that people want a choice," he said.
Meanwhile, 67 percent of residents of the Paradise Valley district approved a $161.7 million bond issue, while 57 percent approved the $9.1 million budget override. Both measures will not increase property taxes for residents because of continued growth in assessed property valuation.
The bond will pay for new schools, replace portable classrooms with permanent structures and replace older school buses with newer, air-conditioned ones.
The override will pay for technology, furniture and equipment for new and existing schools, and will last for seven years.
Sixty-four percent of voters did open their wallets to join the Western Maricopa Education Center District, which is a joint technological education district that allows schools to pool resources, and receive additional state funding to provide technical education equipment. It will raise taxes by $25 per year for the owner of a home valued at $500,000.