In Arizona, a school district’s governing board is authorized to seek additional funding, beyond what’s provided by the state government. They do this by requesting a budget override be put on the election ticket in their district’s area of influence.
State law allows for as much as a fifteen-percent increase of their maintenance and operations budgets, which are calculated based on the number of students attending each district.
For most Arizona school districts, these overrides stay in full effect for about 5 years. After this period, the districts are required to taper off the addition funds each year until none is used, says the law.
If the override passes, the school district will get additional funding, but residents in the school district pay the bill, typically in the form of a property tax.
Some districts have seen a yearly raise of about $150 per household in taxes for properties about $200,000 in value, according to officials like Dr. Blanchard.
Combs and Queen Creek school districts are both attempting to reinstate their existing overrides.
Since 2007, Combs Unified School District has operated under a 10 percent budget override, but voters chose to end that arrangement last November when the override failed to pass the majority vote needed for reinstatement.
“ We have the ability, after five years, to try and reinstate any existing override, but our last attempt this past November was unsuccessful,” Dr. Blanchard said. “Because of that, we’ve had to make reductions in the 2012-2013 school years.”
In this last year, the Combs district was required to begin phasing down their funding. In the end, they lost an amount equal to about 3 percent of the funding received from the state. That is about $700,000, which could pay for 40 teacher salaries, she said.
Even heavier cuts will come into effect if the override fails to pass this November. The district will have to reduce its budget an additional $2 million over the next two years.
The areas that saw the biggest cuts were sports, music, electives classes, teachers and faculty salaries.
For Nov. 6, the district’s governing board decided to test the area’s voters again.
Dr. Blanchard thinks the voters were unclear about the importance of override funds and hopes they will change their minds this year. With about $2 million of the district’s budget tied up in this vote, it’s easy to see why Dr “It’s an extremely significant reduction in funding; especially, if it’s included with the other reductions we’ve seen at the state level,” she said.
Class sizes, extra-curricular activities and elective programs will suffer far more than they already have, Dr. Blanchard said.
If the override passes, those programs that were cut prior to the 2011-2012 school year should be restored to their precut condition, she said.
Property taxes shouldn’t change from current levels, she said.
Superintendent Blanchard sees another reason people without children should vote for the override.
“Having competitive schools in your neighborhood is a major factor in determining property values,” she said.
In the Queen Creek Unified School District, officials are encountering a similar problem with their override, which has been operating since 2002.
Much like the Combs District, Queen Creek failed to get their 10 percent budget override passed, which is phasing down as well.
Now, the district will be taking their last chance before they lose the funds completely.
“ We want to be good stewards for the community, and all we ask voters for is to be with us so we can continue to improve and maintain what we’ve done since 2002,” Queen Creek Unified School District Superintendent Tom Lindsey said.
Funds have allowed for reading special-ists, an extended learning program and additional nurses and aides in the elementary schools and provided many new courses in the middle and high schools.
“For us, the override comes down to $2.5 million, and the bulk of that, about 80 percent, goes to maintain the districts programs and pay salaries,” Mr. Lindsey said. “If we do lose the funding, and we have to make these $2.5 million cuts, about 80 percent of that money will have to come from people and programs.”
“ The reason we’ve been so successful is because of the quality of programs we’ve added since 2002,” he said.
“Having that $2.5 million on the override really allowed us to provide those services that let us meet the needs of all our students.”
The Apache Junction Unified School District is not planning to have an override on the 2012 ballot.
The last time the AJUSD tried passing an override was in 2010.
The district’s governing board spoke about the subject in an April meeting, said AJUSD spokesman Brian Killgore.
According to Mr. Killgore, the district could use override funds, but voters in the area are saying no, for now.
“ The general consensus seemed to be that the board members didn’t feel like it was the right time to bring something like that to the ballet,” he said. “It’s a reflection of what they know the community is going through. It appears things are moving forward in the right direction, but it’s not to that point were people can say we’ve recovered.”
Without the override to insulate the AJUSD from state cuts, the district has had to cut about a fourth of their budget over the past four years, Mr. Killgore said.
Among these cuts are the dismissals of 100 AJUSD employees, including teachers, and the closure of two Apache Junction schools, he said.
Mr. Killgore is convinced that voters will be more willing to vote once the economy turns around.
“ We’ve always tried to present ourselves as custodians of the taxpayer’s dollars,” he said.
In 2009, Mesa Public Schools passed a 10 percent override.
This comes to more than $35 million for the district, according to MPS spokesman Paul Boyer.
For example in 2009, the override went to eight technology trainers, 16 school security positions, 136 extra teachers, 8.8 percent of salaries for the district’s 11,000 full- and parttime employees.
The vote was 58 to 42 percent in favor of the override, a slim victory by budget override standards, with an 18 percent turnout to vote, Mr. Killgore said.
The same override has been re approved by voters since it first passed in 1995.
Even with the override reinstated, the district has had to make significant cuts because of state mandates and reduced enrollment.
In the 2011-2012 school year alone, the district has made $22.6 million in cuts, and because of enrollment is down about 2,200 students, the district is planning to receive $10 million less due to the lax, according to a MPS press release.
So far, cuts to MPS can be totaled at around the $100 million, the document said.