School overrides on ballot

West Valley Independent
Monday, October 10, 2005
Jill R. Goodman and Mica Thomas Mulloy

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Nov. 8 ballot has three education measures. The next issue will share efforts by political action committees. The West-MEC bond request will be covered Oct. 26, 2005.

How much money Deer Valley Unified School District coffers take in will be determined by voters in coming weeks.

Early voting began last week for the Nov. 8 election, which will present three ballot questions asking residents to pay for education with property taxes.

Voters will see requests from DVUSD for a maintenance-and-operations override and a capital override, along with a $25 million bond request from the Western Maricopa Education Center.

With $400 million growth in assessed property value across the 376-square-mile district, DVUSD finance experts anticipate any tax levy would be spread across more residents and businesses, therefore property tax rates will drop even if both measures pass.

The current secondary property tax rate levied by the district, which encompasses bonds and overrides, is $2.62 per $100 of assessed property value.

If both measures pass, the rate would fluctuate between $2.48 and $2.28 over seven years, explained Bill Maas, associate superintendent of fiscal services.

Disapproval of the maintenance-and-operations override would lower the rate 23 cents, while the capital override’s failure would drop the rate 35 cents, Mr. Maas estimated.

“It’s going to be less no matter what happens,” he said.

M&O Override

DVUSD voters first approved a maintenance-and-operations override in 1991. Voters authorized a continuance of the override in 1996 and 2001.

School administrators hope residents will once again allow the district to exceed its budget by 10 percent, or nearly $14.4 million, to fund existing programs and manage continuing growth without budget cuts.

Mr. Maas said the district is dependent on the override’s passage because it has been working with the extra funding for the past 15 years.

“You get into that predicament once you pass your first override,” he said of the 1991 vote. “Once you’re dependent upon an extra 10 percent, then you’re dependent on that really forever, unless you start making cuts along the way with the intent of doing away with that some day.”

With that in mind, voters can expect to see the ballot question and the district’s need for its approval every five years.

“Once you’re in, you’re in,” Mr. Maas said.

According to DVUSD estimates, the approved override would be distributed as follows: 88.6 percent to salaries and benefits, 4.1 percent for school supplies, campus improvement teams and district departments, 1.5 percent for contracted services and tuition for special education students, 5.1 percent for utilities and 0.7 percent for property and liability insurance.

Arizona Tax Research Association Vice President Michael Hunter said his group does not have a position on the DVUSD requests, but in general, overrides tend to have a Draconian threat of cuts attached to them. And in many cases, those cuts do not happen in the end.

Mr. Hunter said the ATRA prefers to look at M&O override requests as two separate budgets — one if the measure passes and one if it does not.

He believes the problem is most districts do not present the budget in such a manner and voters need to look at both views before making a decision.

“They should be holding the district’s feet to the fire on what they’re spending plan is,” he said. “If this thing does fail, what really is going to happen?”

If voters defeat the M&O override, the extension approved in 2001 will start to decrease by one-third for three years as prescribed by law. This means without approval, DVUSD will take in about $4.8 million less in 2006.

With that much missing revenue, district officials said something in the budget will have to give.

Years ago when facing a financial crunch, the district increased class sizes, eliminated assistant principals at schools with less than 1,000 students and pulled other positions such as counselors and playground monitors off campuses.

Without the M&O override extension, those positions, which have mostly been filled in recent times, would likely once again be first on the chopping block.

“I would think you would have to do cuts because you’re looking at almost $5 million and it’s pretty hard to absorb that much,” said DVUSD Governing Board President Christy Agosta.

“Last time we made it a priority to preserve the individual, but many of them had different positions,” Ms. Agosta added of potential cuts.

Capital Override

It may feel like deja vu.

A capital override request for $52.5 million is a near identical request — $500,000 more — denied by 52 percent of DVUSD voters in November 2004, when voters approved a $90 million bond and a separate measure to join West-MEC.

Voters in 10 Arrowhead Ranch-area precincts were evenly split on the capital override with 50 percent on each side.

School administrators and two political action committees hope education efforts over the summer turn this small margin around.

“Whenever they see anything that resembles a tax, they need to be advised what it’s all about. That’s why we put the effort in we have,” said Alan Richardson, chairman of the Deer Valley Support Our Schools, a political action committee supporting both DVUSD overrides.

DVUSD officials say the school district’s need for computers, books and equipment has not gone away, noting these items were funded through bonds before 1998. Voters tend to support bonds, district leaders said, but get confused by new education funding mechanisms authorized by the Arizona Legislature with the creation of the School Facilities Board.

“We used to buy all that equipment with bonds and the community always has been a very strong supporter, passing the requests for the bonds by healthy margins but now it’s presented in a different way; I think that’s what a lot of the confusion is,” Ms. Agosta said.

The override amount recommended by a citizen-inclusive election committee would cover $7.5 million each year for seven years.

If passed, funds are earmarked for new social studies books in all grades districtwide. At costs exceeding $100 per book, this could easily reach $2 million, district officials said, adding they hope to replace textbooks in one subject each year during the capital override’s seven-year cycle.

Another top need is keeping up to date with an inventory of more than 6,000 computers. The district is transitioning from Macintosh to Dell computers, which are easier to fix and upgrade with new software, said Kent Davis, associate superintendent of support services.

With the bulk of money designated for technology, DVUSD leaders aim to bring a ratio of one computer per six students closer to one per five. They also want to equip teachers with a laptop, a move made in about a half-dozen newer schools.

The money would also go toward replacing carpet, paint, desks and lunchroom tables.

The breakdown: $27 million for technology; $15 million for textbooks; $7 million for classroom and cafeteria furniture and equipment; $1.25 million for sports uniforms and equipment for middle and high schools; $1.25 million for fine arts uniforms and equipment; and $1 million for vehicles.

Citing an example of aging equipment, Mr. Richardson said many of the district’s old vehicles cost more to repair than replace.

“We cannot buy the car out of our M&O budget. We have to have the capital override to do that,” he emphasized.

In regard to capital outlay overrides, Mr. Hunter suggested in addition to examining the financial impact of an increased tax, voters scrutinize how current revenue streams are used to determine whether the override is needed.

“Part of what the discussion needs to be on the capital outlay is: Are these expenditures things that could have been done in some other way?” he said.