Before voters cast their ballots in the Payson Unified School District's budget override election, veteran school board member Kristi Ford wants to make sure all their questions are answered.
Ford has served on the PUSD board for eight years, two of those as president. She is also a parent and a local business owner.
The questions she answered were those most frequently asked when she walked neighborhoods one recent weekend. Ford emphasized that she does not speak for the school board or any other school board member.
1. Why are you supporting the override?
As a parent and a local business owner, I understand the absolute necessity of good schools to the health of a community. If we continue to lose good teachers, we will start losing our families to other towns or states where they can get a quality education for their children. With the families will go the professional and service people that keep our town running. As the health and vitality of Payson suffers, our property values will decrease.
I can't change the state legislature this year, nor their philosophy of education. What I can do is support the override to give our kids a fighting chance at an education that is equal to what they would get at other schools in the state.
I realize this is not a permanent solution, but our problem is immediate. If we don't address it now, it will be much more difficult to fix in the future.
2. How does Arizona compare to other states on education funding?
A recent report in "Education Week" magazine ranked each state according to funding for education. New York ranked first at $9,555 per pupil. Arizona ranked 49th at $5,319 -- ahead of only Utah.
3. Why doesn't the state do something about education funding?
A couple months ago, our state legislators (Jake Flake, speaker of the house; Jack Brown, senate majority whip; and Bill Konopnicki, freshman representative) were here in Payson for an Eggs and Issues meeting. I asked them the following question: If 86 percent of all Arizona children are attending school districts that have overrides in place, that indicates taxpayers are voluntarily agreeing to pay more taxes for education. If there is that much support for funding education appropriately, why doesn't the legislature do something about it?
Mr. Flake replied that the state gives us plenty of money to educate Arizona's children, that the state's only responsibility is to provide the basics (reading, writing, math). If the local districts wanted more, they are going to have to provide it.
Mr. Flake used the example that it wasn't the state's responsibility to maintain swimming pools. This view, which is widely held in the Legislature, doesn't take into account today's realities.
Rather than funding swimming pools, we are trying to provide our students with the well-rounded education they need to get into college. Years ago, all you needed was a desire to go to college. Today, you need four years of English, four higher math courses beyond algebra, three lab sciences, two social studies, two years of foreign language and one technology class. That is a far cry from just reading, writing and math, and those standards are set by the state.
4. How did the school district get into this financial crunch?
In 1991-92, the Legislature made the decision to stop funding the inflation adjustor that had been built into the education funding mechanism. From that time until Proposition 301 was passed in 2001, the Legislature did not fund education inflation.
Also in the year 2001, PUSD experienced a stop in growth, and since then has experienced a slight decline in enrollment. In education, the only way to receive new monies is to have more students.
So as costs were increasing, PUSD was not receiving commensurate dollars from state government to meet those costs. The district's insurance premiums, for example, have gone up over 20 percent in the last few years.
Another factor that has influenced the situation is the fact that PUSD has had to redirect 100 percent of its capital outlay revenue limit (CORL). The CORL is a pool of funds appropriated to each school district that is intended to be used to prop up major capital expenditures such as building repair and maintenance. Because the state realized that it was not funding maintenance and operations to the level it should, it allows school districts to transfer 100 percent of this fund to operations (for expenses such as teacher salaries). For several years, the Payson district has transferred 100 percent of this fund to avoid asking the community for help.
5. Has the Payson district been fiscally responsible?
A report published by the state auditor general comparing Payson with 14 other districts our size showed that Payson spends the least on administration of all 14.
6. How do I know the superintendent won't get a big raise out of this?
Superintendent Herb Weissenfels has already publicly stated that he will not accept a salary increase if the override passes.
7. Why don't you just cut out sports?
What people don't realize is that our entire extracurricular budget, and that includes sports, band, drama, speech and debate -- all the extracurricular programs, is only $148,000. When you need $600,000, that's no solution. It just isn't.
Besides, extracurricular activities seem to be, for some kids, the thing that keeps them motivated to do well in school. If they're not performing well in academics, they don't get to participate in extracurricular activities.
8. Why do Valley schools seem to offer so many programs that we don't?
Eighty-six percent of all school children in the state attend school districts where override budgets are already in place. What does that mean? It means that districts such as Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert have for years been pulling in millions of dollars in additional revenues from the public they serve. Those are dollars Payson Unified has not had, and it allows them to offer much more to their children.
9. Why set money aside for alternative instruction?
These funds are not for a new campus or school. They are set aside to provide varied instructional delivery classrooms for our children who struggle in the regular classroom setting. Too often at the middle school and high school levels, a lecture/bookwork/test environment doesn't work well with the learning styles of some students. Those students end up not doing well, get discouraged and drop out.
We are endeavoring to provide non-traditional classroom instruction that will allow the teacher to employ any number of methods to reach those students so they stay in school. Education is, in my opinion, the answer to a great many of society's problems.
10. If I vote yes will my property taxes go up 10 percent?
Absolutely not. The override allows the school district to increase its maintenance and operations budget by 10 percent. The cost to the taxpayer is exactly as stated in the voter information pamphlet provided by Gila County. For a home with an assessed valuation of $116,000, the cost will be approximately $5.25 per month. An interesting side note to that is that assessed values rose by 8 percent this year, and that drove down both the primary and secondary tax rate by 15 percent. Even if the override passes, your tax rate will go down.