The Payson School Board this week got its final report on the enormous stake the district has in the passage of the budget override — with mail-in ballots already starting to arrive in the county elections office.
The district must seek fresh voter approval of the override every five years, with some $1.3 million in funding hanging on the outcome. A yes vote would extend the current extra property tax payment, which costs the owner of a $300,000 home about $7 a month.
The board listened to the legally required summary of what the district spent the override money on this year. Mindful of the potentially crippling effect if the measure doesn’t pass, the board put off a decision on whether to dip into contingency funds to hire someone to cope with weeds sprouting all over all four campuses.
The district has just $165,000 in its contingency fund operations and maintenance and about $500,000 in its contingency fund for capital needs. That’s just a sliver of its $19 million operations and maintenance budget. An outside consultant recently put the district’s total capital needs at about $12 million, although the capital budget is only about $500,000 annually.
The Arizona Legislature has funded only emergency capital repair needs in the past seven to 10 years, resulting in the enormous backlog of repairs and problems. Although the state has boosted teacher salaries by 15 percent in the past two years, the state remains near the bottom in per-student spending. The recent increases have fallen about $2 billion short of restoring the cuts since the onset of the recession, according to the Arizona Education Association.
If voters reject the override, the district will have to make big cuts in the next fiscal year — roughly $400,000 a year for each of the next three years.
Currently, most of the $1.3 million the override generates goes to teacher salaries, according to the summary presented at the board meeting. This year, the override added $1,305,346 to the budget. Next year, a projected rise in assessed values will boost the income from the override by about $60,000 to $1,369,229, according to district finance director Kathie Manning.
If the override fails, the district will have to phase in more than $1.3 million in cuts in the next three years. The board isn’t legally obligated to cut in the allocated areas, but board members have said they would feel obligated to stick to those areas if voters reject the override. All the override money goes into the classroom, funding about 22 teaching positions, in a district with about 120 teachers.
Voters began receiving their ballots in the mail this week, with the deadline for their return set at Nov. 4. The county elections department should have results on Nov. 5.
Allocation of funds
The allocations in the current fiscal year include:
• $359,885 to lower class sizes: The money supports six teaching positions to keep average class sizes in most grades between 24 and 30, depending on grade level. Class sizes have actually grown this year with an extra 160 students showing up. The district couldn’t find enough teachers to keep elementary school classes from growing. The class size targets are an average, with some required classes holding 35 students, especially at the high school. Other classes have fewer students, especially things like special education and the dual-enrollment college classes offered jointly with Gila Community College.
• $112,960 for advanced classes. The override provides money for roughly two teaching positions to offer advanced classes for college-bound students. The district offers mostly online advanced placement classes in physics, English, math, chemistry, U.S. history and sign language. The courses present college-level material. However, most of the college-bound students now take dual-enrollment classes rather than AP classes. The dual-enrollment credits are guaranteed to transfer to the state universities, while students must get a high score on a placement test for the AP classes and hope colleges will accept the credits.
• $832,501 for specialized classes. The override funds cover another 14 teacher salaries for things like computer science, technology, music, band, chorus and physical education as well as providing extra help in reading, writing and math. The elective classes play a key role in maintaining graduation rates and student motivation as well as preparing students for careers. The ability to provide extra help for students in core academic subjects also remains key to the district’s layered, coordinated effort to improve student scores in the areas that count most heavily for the school’s rating, which can now be linked to extra funding.