Principal Kathy Burke would like to see after-school clubs for sewing, theater and science started at her Queen Creek school.
She wants to one day have instrumental music offered to students and extra athletic equipment for after-school programs at Frances Brandon-Pickett Elementary School.
Such programs often rely on school tax-credit donations, which can be made by the public through Dec. 31 for the 2007 tax year.
However, Burke’s school is on the bottom of the list when it comes to the tax-credit donations.
Last year, the 3-year-old school received only $4,201 in 2006 tax credit donations.
That’s the lowest amount in the Queen Creek school district, and the lowest among neighboring Gilbert and Higley school districts for any school that’s been open longer than a year.
With tightened district budgets, extracurricular programs such as after-school clubs, sports, arts and music programs usually are the last to receive funds. School tax-credit donations are the extra bumps needed to keep many of these programs alive, and to help out students with financial needs.
“Any kind of enrichment that your child can have is wonderful,” Burke said. “It’s another opportunity to learn. Anytime you do those types of supplemental activity, it enriches the daily curriculum.”
However, with discrepancies in the amount of tax credits donated to each school, some schools get left out, while other schools reap the benefits.
MORE OR LESS
There are several reasons for the varying amounts each school receives, said Karen Havird, director of finance for the Gilbert Unified School District.
Some schools receive more money because an out-of-state trip is planned for groups such as the marching band, choir or athletic teams, and community members are helping out for transportation and extra expenses.
For example, Patterson Elementary School, whose choir traveled to Washington, D.C., in June, received $45,263 last year in tax-credit donations.
“If there’s a big trip going on, then usually we’ll see quite an increase,” Havird said.
Other schools have a higher student population and therefore have more parents or other family members contributing, Havird said.
In the Gilbert school district, that could explain the smaller Desert Ridge High School getting $106,000 in donations, compared with the much larger Mesquite High School, which received $280,941. Desert Ridge has about 2,400 students, whereas Mesquite High has about 3,150 students.
Differing amounts in total donations can also be attributed to the economic level surrounding schools, Havird said.
A lower socioeconomic area may not have the extra money to contribute.
Another reason is how a school advertises for tax-credit donations, Havird said.
“Some schools put a lot more effort into marketing it,” she said. “They do brochures and notify parents.”
High schools typically receive more money than elementary schools because there are more extracurricular activities, such as athletics, marching band and orchestra.
HOW TO DONATE
School tax-credit donations can be used for any extracurricular activity that students are involved in.
Married couples filing income tax in Arizona can donate up to $400, or a single person filing in the state can contribute up to $200.
“It’s a direct credit on their taxes,” Havird said. “If they receive a refund, that refund would be increased by the amount of the tax credit donation. If they owe money, that tax credit would be subtracted from what they owe.”
Ryan Magenot, the Higley High School director of choirs, stressed how easy it is.
“You give your money, and you get it right back,” Magenot said. “It’s like a government loan. If you owe money on taxes, it is literally pennies for pennies a credit. It’s not a deduction. This is really, truly a credit.”
Anyone can donate who files an Arizona tax form, even if they do not have a child in school.
“Personally, I do it because I am making a difference in a program at a school,” Havird said. “Plus, I get my money back.”
The donation can be contributed to a school and program of the person’s choice. For donations not designated for a specific program, a school site council can decide how best to use the money.
All donations must be received or postmarked by Dec. 31. Many school districts encourage donors to fill out contribution forms online, or the forms can be dropped off at the schools during regular business hours.
In the Gilbert district, the district office at Elliot and Gilbert roads and the community education building at Power and Guadalupe roads will be staffed from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 31 to allow people to turn in their tax credit forms if they want to do so in person.
SPENDING THE DONATIONS
In the Queen Creek school district, tax-credit donations made last year are being used this year for students to attend cheer competitions and clinics, robotics competitions, and to start a touch rugby club, said Shari Zara, the district’s director of finance.
In the Higley district, the donations were used for field trips to the Arizona Science Center, the Phoenix Zoo and the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Donations were also used for science camps and after-school tutoring.
Magenot, the director of choirs with Higley High School, said donations have been used to buy new dance outfits for the school’s show choir. The money will be used to help the jazz choir go to the Jazz/Madrigal Festival at Northern Arizona University in February, and help the advanced choir go to Southern California in May to work with two college choirs and a high school choir.
“We wouldn’t be able to get by without them. There’s no way,” he said. “It allows us to have the experience to get outside of the classroom and have a real-world experience.”
In the Gilbert district, tax credits help students attend Tiger Town Club camp in Prescott, which helps students learn how to identify and avoid such things as racism, sexism and sexual orientation discrimination, said Chris Mack, a Gilbert High School guidance counselor and co-director of the club.
“Through that experience, they have an increased sense of awareness of what people do to each other,” Mack said. “When they come back to campus, their eyes and ears are open. They’re agents of change to be part of an environment to be welcomed and included.”
The money pays for transportation, lodging and food, Mack said. “If I had a student that couldn’t afford to go to the camp, the beauty of this thing is, I can just say, 'Not a problem. I have money,’ ” he said. “I’ve never excluded anyone because of money. For me, that’s a beautiful thing to say.”
2006 TAX CREDIT DONATIONS PER SCHOOL
Gilbert Unified School District, $2,079,580
Settlers Point Elementary, $64,506
Spectrum Elementary, $62,601
Val Vista Lakes Elementary, $52,049
Ashland Ranch Elementary, $50,416
Patterson Elementary, $46,263
Finley Farms Elementary, $44,926
Sonoma Ranch Elementary, $43,396
Augusta Ranch Elementary, $42,839
Gilbert Elementary, $41,323
Carol Rae Ranch Elementary, $41,197
Canyon Rim Elementary, $40,495
Greenfield Elementary, $40,310
Islands Elementary, $39,976
Playa Del Rey Elementary, $37,480
Mesquite Elementary, $37,466
Meridian Elementary, $35,027
Towne Meadows Elementary, $34,517
Pioneer Elementary, $33,379
Gilbert Public Schools Traditional Academy, $33,314
Highland Park Elementary, $29,828
Superstition Springs Elementary, $28,473
Boulder Creek Elementary, $28,335
Oak Tree Elementary, $24,334
Burk Elementary, $24,000
Harris Elementary, $19,054
Houston Elementary, $18,589
JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOLS
Highland Junior High, $51,853
South Valley Junior High, $41,057
Greenfield Junior High, $41,022
Mesquite Junior High, $26,421
Gilbert Junior High, $18,800
Desert Ridge Junior High, $16,947
Mesquite High, $280,941
Highland High, $257,971
Gilbert High, $238,538
Desert Ridge High, $106,021
Gilbert Public Schools Technology & Leadership Academy, $4,620
Gilbert Learning Center, $1,100
Gilbert Classical Academy, $200
Higley Unified School District, $299,234
Higley Elementary and Middle School, $42,690
Power Ranch Elementary, $41,664
Coronado Elementary, $39,747
San Tan Elementary, $37,295
Gateway Pointe Elementary, $20,590
Cortina Elementary, $16,628
Chaparral Elementary, $900
Higley High, $97,819
Williams Field High, $1,900
Queen Creek Unified School District, $93,117
Desert Mountain Elementary, $12,069
Queen Creek Elementary, $6,506
Jack Barnes Elementary, $4,620
Frances Brandon-Pickett Elementary, $4,201
JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOLS
Queen Creek Middle School, $13,506
Queen Creek High School, $52,215
Information for donating to each district:
Chandler Unified School District: (480) 812-7000 or www.chandler.k12.az.us/tax-credit.html
Coolidge Unified School District: (520) 723-2048 or www.coolidgeschools.org
Florence Unified School District: (520) 866-3500 or www.florenceusd.org
Gilbert Unified School District: (480) 497-3452 or www.gilbert.k12.az.us, click on Our Schools, and click on Tax Credit Donations
Higley Unified School District: (480) 279-7055 or www.husd.org
J.O. Combs Unified School District: (480) 987-5300 or www.jocombs.org
Mesa Unified School District: (480) 472-0106 or www.mpsaz.org
Queen Creek Unified School District: (480) 987-5935 or www.qcusd.org, click on For Parents, and click on Tax Credit Form
• Taxpayers can also donate to charter schools, which are public schools that are privately operated. For a list of charter schools in your area, contact the Arizona Board for Charter Schools, (602) 364-3080 or www.asbcs.state.az.us.