November Ballot To See Greater Number Of Education Bonds And Overrides

October 29, 2013

(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Chandler High School in Arizona.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Litchfield Elementary School in Arizona.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Litchfield Elementary School District Office in Arizona.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)
Litchfield Elementary School in Arizona.

It's back to the ballot box this November for many Arizona school districts. Last year’s failed attempt to pass bonds and overrides forced schools to ask voters, once again, for support. For some districts this election is one final effort before they face more budget cuts.

It is after 3 p.m. outside Chandler High School. It is part of the Chandler Unified School District, which serves more than 40,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students. Since 1989 it has depended on voter-approved overrides to pay for salaries, teacher training and other programs. Jim Bishop is Chairman of the Yes For Chandler Students override committee.

“Districts have very few options as far as raising revenues. It’s not a business," Bishop said. "Obviously you can do things like charge for athletics, but either you get override funding or you get more funding from the state."

But that has been hard to come by. Since the legislature began slashing school funding in 2008, this district has cut $36 million from its operating budget. It was one of more than two dozen districts in 2012 that failed to get voter approval for an override that would have used property tax increases to supplement its bottom line. If it fails again, Bishop said Chandler Unified will have to make cuts next year.

“Failure of pass this override will result in $20 million less in funding. It will be phased out over the next three years," Bishop explained. "That’s the equivalent of 333 teachers in Chandler Unified School District to make up for that difference. That would raise your average grade school class size by anywhere from four to six students per classroom.”

Budget overrides come in five-year blocks. To fund this one, tax payers would fork out an extra $46 a year on a $100,000 house, perhaps a tough sell during years of economic turmoil. Chandler Unified is one of about 50 districts in Arizona with a special funding request in the upcoming election. Northern Arizona University’s Nicholas Clement said this is unusual but not surprising.

“Now you have a combination of districts that are in their normal five year cycle going for an override and then add to that districts who didn’t pass overrides last year. So, I think that creates this unusual number," Clement said.

And this time Clement said there are signs that more of these ballot measures will pass.

“This time around the economy is slowly getting better and I think that’s gonna influence. We don’t have state-wide controversial issues on the ballot that might influence it this time around," Clement said.

Clement is referring to Prop 204, the renewal of the penny sale tax for education that voters rejected last November. He said its unpopularity trickled down to other education funding measures. Over in the West Valley, the Litchfield Elementary School District also failed to pass its override in 2012.

“Of 27,000 votes last year we only lost by 635, and we felt very good about that because it was a general election," Clement said.

Ann Donahue is a district spokesperson. We met off campus on her own time. State law does not allow school employees to lobby funding measures during an election. Donahue said the Litchfield District has cut its operating budget by more than $8.5 million since 2008.

The new override does not call for a property tax increase, it just extends the current rate another five years. Donahue said passing the measure is crucial especially since the district has grown in recent years by 2,000 students.

“If we lose this override we will have to cut 108 positions over three years, which is critical. That’s instructional, coaches, that’s aides, as well as teaching positions," Donahue said.

The Litchfield District is also considering a separate bond election down the road. That will allow the district to borrow money to build a new school in its growing West Valley community.