The issue of what unifying the Tempe and Kyrene elementary and Tempe Union High school districts will to do to homeowner tax rates remains as gray as ever.
Voters now have early ballots in their hands. It's less than four weeks until Election Day.
As voters in Tempe, Chandler and Ahwatukee Foothills try to decide the fate of those districts, a common question may be: What will it do to me?
The Arizona School Board Association asked Stone and Youngberg to analyze the possible tax implications of combining the three East Valley districts.
The answer: It depends.
"Even if they don't understand school finance and tax rates, hopefully they'll come away believing we don't know the answers to some of these questions," said Chris Thomas, legal adviser at the association, which represents school boards around the state. "If you're wondering whether your taxes are going to go up or down, we can probably tell you that but we can't tell you how much."
There are 27 unification and consolidation measures on Arizona ballots in November, affecting 76 school districts. For unification to take place, voters in all three districts must approve the measure. The only measure in the East Valley is the Tempe and Kyrene elementary and Tempe Union question.
Justin Olson, a research analyst at the Arizona Tax Research Association, said the study gives analysis based on one of two scenarios. They depend on which of two state statutes is used should voters in those three districts approve unification.
One law addresses unification and says the newly created district would assume all the debt of the former districts. The other addresses consolidation and said the debts are not pooled.
Kevin McCarthy of the tax research association said voters need to realize that the way school financing is set up in the state, there are very few differences between an elementary school district, a union district and a unified district.
"For the most part, there shouldn't be too much in terms of dislocations in going from a split structure to a unified structure," he said.
In the case of the Kyrene and Tempe elementary districts, both already have a K-3 override in place and a maintenance and operations override in place. In Arizona, districts budgets are set by state statute, but voters can approve increasing those budgets by taxing themselves.
The only real difference is that Tempe Elementary receives desegregation funds and Kyrene does not.
The Stone and Youngberg report, for instance, suggests should the districts unify there could be a 0.1039 decrease in the bond tax rate for Kyrene homeowners with a 0.1382 increase for Tempe Elementary homeowners. Property owners in both districts already contribute to any tax increases in the Tempe Union district, which is seeking a $30 million bond approval in November.
One of the reasons there could be "slight" changes to homeowners in those districts, according to the report, is because the districts have similar assessed values, which helps determine tax rates. But Kyrene has about double the debt service this year as Tempe Elementary.
Jay Blanchard, a member if the School District Redistricting Committee, which met Tuesday and heard a brief synopsis of the report, said it can be a lot to take in.
"I walked away with a sense that there are a lot of questions that the voters have to consider," Blanchard said.