Mesa schools place hopes on override's OK - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa schools place hopes on override's OK

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Posted: Thursday, October 29, 2009 3:21 pm | Updated: 7:06 pm, Fri Oct 3, 2014.

The Mesa Unified School District has trimmed $60 million from its budget the last two years. And district officials fully expect a midyear budget cut in the next few months.

On Tuesday, if voters don't approve the renewal of an existing budget override - that now pays for a range of things, from classroom supplies to additional teachers to lower class sizes - it will have to cut even more.

The 67,000-student district has had an override in place since voters first approved it in 1995. Voters have approved two override renewals since then.

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Arizona public school districts are funded on a formula set by legislation. It takes into account the number of students in a school and multiplies that by a set base figure.

The only way for school districts to spend more than the state-set limit is when its voters agree to tax themselves for the additional money through an override election.

An override is in place for seven years. Voters must approve a renewal in the fifth year in order to keep the full spending amount in the budget.

A yes vote Tuesday keeps Mesa's full override in place at the current tax rate.

A no vote means the district will have to cut its override spending by one-third for the next school year. More cuts follow if voters continue to turn down the override.

An override committee of 22 community members has been leading the charge in Mesa, putting up signs and speaking to public groups.

"The one thing I think people are confused about, they think if they say 'yes' it will raise their taxes," said Jill Benza, who is leading the committee. "I want to make sure the message gets out that this is not going to increase taxes."

Mesa is seeking a 10 percent override - the same as it has been since 1995. Arizona law does now allow districts to seek up to a 15 percent override.

The average Mesa homeowner currently pays about $155 a year for the override, which funds:

8.8 percent of teachers' salaries.

35 percent of classroom supply budgets.

16 security guards.

Eight educational technology trainers.

136 teachers to reduce class sizes.

In Mesa, there would be no changes to the current tax rate, which is about $155 a year for the average Mesa home.

The Apache Junction Unified School District, which also has an override election Tuesday, is in a different situation than Mesa because it's seeking a new override rather than support for one that already exists. This means if it passes, taxes will go up.

The Apache Junction district has cut $4 million from this year's budget and expects to cut another $2 million to $3 million next school year.

"I hope the whole community - it's not just the parents - realize what it takes to fund our children for school," said Liz Sloan, treasurer of the community committee supporting the Apache Junction override. "With the economy the way it is, the state has already cut - and is cutting more. It becomes the responsibility of the community to take care of our own."

If the Apache Junction schools override passes, the property tax for next year will increase $62 dollars on a home with an assessed value of $188,000.

"Currently, families are paying a participation fee of $50 annually for high school athletics. If the override fails, these fees will have to be increased in order for the athletic programs to survive. Some high schools are already charging $150 to participate in football. If the override is approved, you will not see any increases in activity fees," the district stated in a letter.

"It's a sad state of affairs that school districts even have to consider overrides," said Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association.

Contreras said many of the 89 school districts asking for overrides this election are seeking renewals of those measures.

Contreras said most of the public is supportive of public education, so the concern for Tuesday's election is who turns out to vote: those who are anti-tax or those who support public education.

"In the last election, a vast majority of the bonds and overrides passed," Contreras said. "The more informed the community was, the more apt they were to support a bond or override."

Arizona school districts were dealt a midyear cut in January when they had to give back $133 million in funds. Public school proponents say they expect the state Legislature to do the same in the next few months.

So any override failures would mean additional cuts, proponents say.

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