It's Bottom-Line Time For Schools And Gila County

PUSD expects tax rate to drop

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The Payson School Board plans to raise the district's budget $1.2 million Monday, but school officials expect local tax rates to drop.

"The tax load is expected to go down on our primary and secondary taxes," Payson School District Business Manager Bobette Sylvester said, "but we won't know for sure until the fall when the (Gila County) Board of Supervisors sets the rates."

Sylvester expects local tax rates to drop because the district isn't applying for adjacent-ways funding -- money for street and sidewalk improvements near schools, which can raise local tax rates -- and due to new state funding formulas, which have provided the district with additional state money.

The district was granted $245,000 in adjacent-ways money last year to widen Mud Springs Road and Frontier Street near Frontier Elementary School and to add sidewalks to the thoroughfares.

The school board will consider adopting a $13.5 million budget after listening to public comment during a special budget hearing at 5 p.m. Monday. The board will vote on the issue during its regular meeting immediately after the hearing.

The budget is funded through state and local taxes, state and federal grants, donations and school fees.

The district is increasing its budget because it is receiving $394,000 more for new students and $209,000 more from the State Legislature as part of school funding reform. More than half that amount, however, is contingent on state revenue surpluses and may be withheld this fall.

The board also increased capital spending by $27,000 this year and had to pay $71,000 more in excess utility costs.

The board is funneling $718,000 of the budget increase into maintenance and operations, which includes salaries.

The board plans to add five teaching positions to the district, which will cost $86,043 in salaries and benefits the first year. The board plans to use grant money, which must be renewed each year, to pay for three half-time positions.

The board wants to hire a math teacher and a science teacher for the high school, a reading intervention teacher at Julia Randall Elementary School and a reading intervention teacher at Frontier Elementary School.

The district also is expanding half-time positions at the district's three elementary schools to provide full-day kindergarten programs at all three schools.

District enrollment rose slightly this year, from 2,615 to 2,654, but that 38-student increase wasn't the driving force behind the board's decision to add teachers, Sylvester said. Instead, the positions were created to meet changing student needs, she said.

"At the high school, for example, we have more college-bound students who need math and science courses," Sylvester said. "To help them meet their objectives, we added a new math teacher and a new science teacher."

The all-day kindergarten teachers, on the other hand, were added to meet student demand. Due to the popularity of the program, which was limited to 22 students at JRE last year, it was expanded to 66 students at all three elementary schools this year.

The bulk of the budget, $11.48 million, is dedicated to maintenance and operation expenses which include salaries, benefits, student transportation, supplies, utilities and campus maintenance.

Earlier this year, the board approved a new salary schedule that boosted district salaries an average of 3 percent, bringing the district's total salary and benefit cost to $9.86 million -- 86 percent of the district's total budget. The board also approved a $135,000 cost increase for employee insurance earlier this year.

The board has committed $948,000 to capital improvements, which includes $362,000 for lease obligations on school vans, playground equipment and computers, and $188,000 for new textbooks, and $30,000 for school small-capital expenses such as printers, paper cutters and other minor equipment.

The district also received $252,000 from the state last year for school repairs this year. The district is using that money for such projects as a new classroom roof at JRE and a new parking lot at Rim Country Middle School. Construction on those projects is scheduled to start next week.

The district also will pay $1.7 million on outstanding bonds that were issued to build Frontier Elementary School, expand Payson High School and Rim Country Middle School and complete other school building projects.

The board will meet to discuss the budget at 5 p.m. Monday at the Payson School District office at 514 W. Wade Lane. The meeting is open to the public.

PUSD's proposed budget at a glance

Maintenance/operations 1998-1999 -- $10,703,344

Maintenance/operations 1999-2000 -- $11,484,301

Capital 1998-1999 -- $1,011,190
Capital 1999-2000 -- $948,522
Total budget 1998-1999 -- $12.3
Total budget 1999-2000 -- $13.5
Student enrollment 1998-1999 -- 2,615

Student enrollment 1999-2000 -- 2,654

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