RCMS Stan Rentz Helps Student (copy)

PUSD Superintendent Stan Rentz talks with an RCMS student earlier this year. Voters recently received ballots in the mail for the school override.

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.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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(1) comment

Phil Mason

WOW!, WOW!, WOW! This a clear case of intentionally making decisions to misinform the public on the facts. PUSD has continually played fast and loose with taxpayer money for the purpose of wringing even more money from those who can least afford it.

Any "outside consultant" that does a study for a government entity ALWAYS comes up with the bottom line preferred by the funder of the research. The fact that they are now saying that 100% of the Override will go to teacher salaries - teachers are now averaging over $50,000.00 and an additional $20,000.00 in benefits - goes to the depth of obfuscation they are handing out. This is an old trick called supplanting instead of supplementing teacher salaries. The district has intentionally and cynically decreased the amount of funding for teacher salaries by 20% of their revenue over this decade. Then they cry that teachers are underpaid and blame everyone but themselves who are the real culprits. The facts according to the Auditor General of the State of Arizona - The PUSD Board in cooperation with the PUSD Administration has voted to reduce the percentage of revenue to the teachers by 20%. If they would simply restore the money they improperly took away from the teachers, each teacher in the district would receive about $20,000.00 more in salary.

It this was the stock market or a publicly traded corporation, people would be fired at least and potentially liable for civil and criminal charges at worst. Ask Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff how that works.

PUSD will NEVER reform itself as long as their blatant irresponsible actions are condoned by voters continuing to fund their fiscally irresponsible activity. PS: Student outcomes will not improve (only 31% pass the AZMerit test) until held accountable by the parents and property owners in this district.

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