With arts classes, maintaining class sizes and nearly 10 percent of its operating budget on the line, the Payson School Board voted this week to seek a voter extension of its budget override.
If voters in November balk at continuing the $1.4 million in extra funding, the district would have to cut some $400,000 each year for the next three years.
“This is a continuation of the override that’s been in place for eight years,” said Superintendent Greg Wyman. “So it’s not technically a tax increase, so you have to understand how the language in the voter pamphlet has to speak to this. But people have been paying this tax for years so your taxes aren’t going to go up or down if it passes, unless your assessed value changes.”
The district could have asked for a bigger, 15 percent override for the next seven years. The board could have also changed the spending priorities.
But even though the district badly needs more money, the board opted to stick with exactly the same amount and the same spending priorities.
The money would be used to:
• Keep class sizes within the current approved ranges.
• Provide advanced placement and college dual-enrollment classes at the high school.
• Maintain technology programs and positions.
• Maintain music programs and positions.
• Maintain physical education programs and positions.
• Attract and retain staff.
The board vote this week will require the county elections department to schedule a vote at the next regular election in November. The county will likely determine whether to conduct the election as an entirely mail-in affair or to provide polling places as well.
“If this were not to pass in November, then the first thing we’ll have to do is cut $400,000 before the next budget year,” said Wyman.
The district would then cut another $400,000 in each of the next two years as it phases out the override money. The district could go back to the voters again, but the first $400,000 in cuts would already have taken effect.
Salaries make up most of the district’s $14 million budget, so the loss of the override money would almost certainly require layoffs, cuts in the sports and music programs and an increase in class sizes, due to a smaller teaching staff.
The district has already put off most capital spending, due to years in which the Arizona Legislature has refused to fund building and capital needs for districts throughout the state. A recent consultant’s report concluded the district has some $12 million in accumulated capital needs, which would require $3 million to $4 million in annual expenditures to address. However, the district only has about $300,000 annually budgeted for capital needs.
The district also faces big problems with transportation, with many of its buses prone to breakdowns thanks to the 200,000 miles on the odometer.
The district also relies heavily on Credit for Kids to support many of its extracurricular programs, especially sports and the arts.
In 2018, voters statewide supported all seven of the 10 percent operations and maintenance overrides, which is what Payson would be seeking this year. However, only 70 percent of the budget, capital and school bond efforts succeeded.
Fortunately, Payson’s one of the few districts that has consistently won community support for override and bond elections. Only 24 percent of the state’s districts so far have that enviable, 100 percent record, according to the Arizona School Boards Association.