On Nov. 3, the Mesa Unified School District will ask voters to approve continuation of a budget override tax.
All across Mesa, signs with three smiling children’s faces are popping up on street corners, placed there by volunteers and members of a citizens’ committee behind the effort.
Arizona school districts are funded on a formula based on enrollment. Districts can receive additional dollars through override elections, up to 10 percent more. In an override, homeowners agree to pay additional taxes that go to their local school districts.
Mesa has had an override in place since 1995. In the last election, 76 percent of voters said yes to keeping it in place. It must be voted on every five years to keep it at full strength, otherwise it starts to drop over three years, by one-third each year.
Jill Benza, a former assistant superintendent for the district, is chairwoman of Mesa Citizens for Responsible Public Policy. Her group started plans for the override campaign in the spring.
There are 22 members on the committee, she said.
“The district is not allowed to use their resources to sway the outcome of any election. The folks that got together all really care about the district and have been involved at some point,” she said.
Not only will the committee put up signs, but members will go to community groups and present them the information about the override.
“People in Arizona are just saturated with things about the budget,” Benza said. “The main thing that is our role is to make sure our community members know how important this override election is to the school district.”
Gerrick Monroe, assistant superintendent in the 67,000-student district, told the Mesa school board on Tuesday that the override currently pays for 8.8 percent of teachers’ salaries. In addition, it helps fund:
• 35 percent of the classroom supply budget.
• 16 security guards.
• 136 teachers to help reduce class size.
• Eight educational technology trainers.
“This election is asking voters to continue that funding and will not be a new tax increase,” Monroe said.
The tax costs the owner of a $196,000 home in Mesa about $155 a year, he said.
“Without the override, it becomes economically difficult for us to be competitive in identifying and recruiting the best teachers to Mesa (school district) because of the financial impact of the override for teachers,” Superintendent Mike Cowan said.
Because of shortfalls in the state budget and a decline in enrollment, Mesa Unified has lost about $60 million from its budget over the past two years. District leaders are currently looking at how facilities are used on the 87 campuses to draft possible proposals for new charter schools sponsored by the district, school closings, unique programs, and reconfiguration of grades at schools.
Other East Valley school districts that will hold budget elections this fall include Higley and Apache Junction unified school districts.