Gilbert school district looks at cuts, fee increases to balance next year’s budget - East Valley Tribune: Education

Gilbert school district looks at cuts, fee increases to balance next year’s budget

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Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 11:07 am

With the need to cut $6 million from its budget next year, the Gilbert Unified School District is looking at shaving school budgets, hiring occupational and physical therapists rather than using contract workers, and raising athletic fees.

Related: Gilbert district considering increase in student athletic fees

Voters in the Gilbert Unified School District in November turned down an option to renew the current budget override. With that loss, the district has to cut $6 million for the 2013-2014 school year, and another $6 milllion each of the subsequent years. School districts in Arizona are funded by the state based on a formula that uses student enrollment. But district voters can tax themselves additional money, called an “override,” to provide additional dollars. Most East Valley school districts have an override in place.

Superintendent Dave Allison presented several ideas to address the budget, including cutting school budgets by 5 percent, adjusting how much the district pays for its unemployment insurance and removing employee stipends.

That last piece may not wind up as a pay cut for teachers since the district is expecting to receive more money from the voter-approved Prop. 301 dollars. Voters put that in place — a .06 cent sales tax — to provide more money to education. As the economy has improved, schools have received more money from that fund.

The Gilbert district also faces a 13.5 percent increase in health insurance costs next school year. But on Tuesday, the district’s governing board voted to make changes to the plan — increasing deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for employees — to help make up about half of that increase.

Some board members said Tuesday they want to pass a budget that does not raise the primary property tax rate for Gilbert residents.

“I would find it unacceptable to have an increase in either the tax rate or total dollar we pay in property taxes. Either would be a no go from me,” said board member Daryl Colvin.

But board member Lily Tram pointed out that by not adjusting the tax rate, the district may lose out on funds it could receive based on the state budget forumla.

“When you are referring to that, you are not willing to take the full amount of money available to our students,” Tram said. “But when you look over the years, what we pay to the Gilbert district is lower. We should gather all the funding we need, that we are able to have, for our students.”

The district raised the primary tax rate last year, but the rate was lowered the previous year. That ebb and flow of rates is typically tied to home values, which have been declining the past few years.

“Typically the rate is set by formula to compensate for fluctuations in home values to keep the revenues to support the budget consistent,” said Teddy Dumlao, the district’s finance director.

The district is currently working with numbers based on Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal. That Legislature has not finalized a state budget for next year, so the figures will likely change.

Arizona school districts must pass a budget for next school year by May 15, but that budget can — and often does — change. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

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