School districts in Gilbert, Queen Creek and Tempe are facing budget cuts next school year after voters in those communities turned down requests to renew budget overrides.
The governing boards for the Gilbert, Higley and Queen Creek unified school districts, as well as Tempe Union High School District, all put budget override questions on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Chandler Unified School District also put an override renewal on the ballot that voters turned down, but did so a year early so the district will not face budget cuts next fall.
Arizona school districts are funded on a per-student formula from the state. Voters can agree to tax themselves to give districts additional funds. Many school districts across the state have overrides, including most in the East Valley.
The law allows an override to stay in place for seven years, with voters to be asked by the fifth year whether or not to renew it. When a renewal fails, the override decreases by one-third the following years until it disappears, or if voters are asked again to renew it.
Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said last month that because of the cuts the state has made to education during the recession, many of these districts have come to rely on the overrides for normal expenses, rather than “extras.”
While overrides in the East Valley failed this week, a look at historical data compiled for the AASBO indicates the failure rate this year around the state is fairly consistent with the last two years. Some races around the state are also too close to call at this point.
In Gilbert, the school district has had to cut $30 million over the last four years. With the loss of the override, at least another $5.8 million will need to be cut for the 2013-2014 school year, with close to $12 million in cuts required the year after that and $17 million in the following year, bringing an end to the override funding.
Superintendent Dave Allison said the Gilbert district will start exploring ideas soon, with more budget discussions coming in January after the governor puts out a budget proposal for the next fiscal year and the Legislature goes back into session.
Allison pointed out that the full budget picture won’t be known for several months.
“Obviously, we’re going to be cutting $5.8 million. So we do need to start looking at some preliminary things,” he said.
Two political action committees may have helped defeat the Gilbert override, he said.
“In Gilbert, there was certainly a very active and well organized anti-override group and that had some effect on it,” Allison said.
Governing board president EJ Anderson agreed.
“I am very, very disappointed and very sad. The Gilbert school district has always supported quality education in the past. This time, I think there was a lot of confusion. The opposition put out a lot of lies and distorted facts,” she said.
Anderson appears to have lost her bid for re-election. Three newcomers — Jill Humphreys, Daryl Colvin and Julie Smith — are leading in recent, unofficial results, along with Lily Tram, a current board member.
Higley Unified School District will have to look at cuts as well next year. The growing district also had a request for capital funds before voters. Both measures failed, according to unofficial results.
“Unfortunately, this election impacts our students and families directly. Regardless of whether or not we build new schools, our community is growing and houses are being built. Each year, we add an estimated 500 students. Without support from voters and legislators for additional funds to pay for education and new school buildings, we are running out of options to accommodate the growth,” the district said in a release.
Tempe Union High School District has a 10 percent override in place, which provides about $6.5 million in additional funds each year. The governing board had put a 15 percent override on the Nov. 6 ballot, a measure allowed because of changes in state law two years ago.
The district is still analyzing what the loss of the override could mean for the district, a spokeswoman said.
Chandler Unified School District went out for its override a year early because of the higher number of voters during presidential elections. The community has supported overrides since they began, district spokesman Terry Locke said.
Locke pointed out that there was a large, active bid against another education bill on the ballot — Proposition 204, which would have made a 1-cent state sales tax for education permanent.
“I believe Proposition 204 created a lot of confusion among voters. We received a great deal of feedback from the public trying to figure out how the proposition and local override intersected. Some indicated that if Proposition 204 passed, the districts might not need additional override help. And the negative messaging about Proposition 204 may have impacted local elections,” Locke said in an email. “We as school districts may not have done everything we could to explain the depth of our cuts over the last four years and that we were trying to restore 2008 per-student funding levels.”
Locke said a budget committee will explore whether or not to recommend putting the override measure on the November 2013 ballot.
“We will work with the legislature and the governor in a positive manner to seek funding solutions to help us continue to push the bar with student achievement,” he said.
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