East Valley school districts are taking a lot of issues to voters in November.
Combined with local, state and national elections, East Valley voters will find their ballots long.
From budget override questions to requests for bond funds, voters in Tempe, Gilbert, Mesa, Chandler and Queen Creek will be making decisions that impact school budgets and voter property taxes.
And if Proposition 204 – the Quality Education and Jobs initiative, which is currently tangled in court battles – makes it onto the ballot, that may add another layer of questions for voters. The proposal would leave in place a temporary 1 cent tax approved by voters in 2010.
So far, Higley, Queen Creek, Gilbert, and Chandler unified districts and Tempe Union High School District have maintenance and operations override renewals on the ballot. Each asks to keep in place additional funds the school districts receive from property owners above what the state allocates.
Maintenance and operations budgets provide the bulk of the money districts use to pay for teachers and staff. The state provides funds to public schools based on enrollment. But voters can approve overrides to tax themselves to give district schools additional dollars. Overrides are in place for seven years, with funding dropping the last three years if they are not reauthorized (the seventh year would be zero funding without renewal).
Most school districts in the East Valley have an override in place. With the millions in cuts made to education during the economic downturn, those districts are now asking voters to approve the overrides again.
Bond funds provide money to build schools, fix schools, or add infrastructure or technology. The state took over some of those responsibilities several years ago after a judge ruled that bond questions make school funding unequal, which would be unconstitutional under state law.
But the state has not allocated full funding to the state School Facilities Board – which was created to dole out building repair and construction dollars -- for several years.
That has prompted several districts to ask for bond or capital outlay funding.
It’s a little easier to get bond questions approved than overrides, Arizona School Board Association’s Janice Palmer told a group of school board members this week. That’s because voters can see the result of a bond question, such as a fixed roof or campus addition.
But with so much on the ballot this year, it’s unclear which measures will pass and which ones may not get the wave of approval from voters, she said. A lot of that comes from the political climate.
“There’s a lot of change going on,” she told them. “I think with bonds, you’re going to be OK. People want to see something tangible. Overrides are going to be very challenging.”
Palmer said the overrides, bonds and Prop. 204 are all compatible, and that’s the message groups supporting them should send to voters.
Another measure that will be on the ballot – Proposition 118 – changes distribution from the state land trust to schools.
“It ensures more stability” in the funds that go to schools to benefit teachers, she said. Those funds were created with the approval of Proposition 301 in 2000.
Money from the sale of state land goes into the state land trust. Many of those dollars go into education.
Bottom line, Palmer said, is making sure voters get to the polls.
“You’re going to have to make sure people go through all of the ballot,” she said.
In Arizona, 70 percent of households do not have children. So groups that support the school district measures are going to have to educate people beyond the parents of their students, she said.
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