By James J. Hodl
Copper Area News
Three school districts in Pinal County will be asking voters to approve tax overrides to support their maintenance and operations budgets on Nov. 4.
Both the Oracle Elementary School District and the Superior Unified School District has filed for 15 percent overrides while the Ray Unified School District based in Kearny is seeking a 10 percent override. Under Arizona law, individual school districts can seek voter approval through property taxes additional funding equivalent to up to 15 percent more than is allocated in the state budget approved by the state legislature.
Of the three districts, the most energized is the Oracle Elementary School District, which in 2013 came only 52 votes short of approving a 15 percent override.
“Oracle needs the full override funding to maintain the current level of instructional programs. Since the heartbreaking loss in 2013 we had to trim the budget by nearly $154,000 for the upcoming school year and, without a reauthorization of the 15 percent override we might have cut deeper, which would affect some of educational programs,” said Dennis Blauser, superintendent of Oracle Elementary.
To put the override over the top this year, the district is casting a wider net in search of voters. Pitches for the override have already been delivered before a meeting of the local Republican and Democrat parties and to the local Rotary Club. An independent political action committee called SOS (Support Our Schools) has been organized by citizen Jana Looby that is currently fundraising to support efforts to promote the override in the fall.
“We will be canvasing door to door, making phone calls and passing out leaflets to get the word out that without reauthorization of the full 15 percent override some educational programs might be lost,” Looby said. “We’ll be meeting with church and other groups, with special emphasis on the SaddleBrooke and SaddleBrooke Ranch communities where we feel the extra votes can be found.”
“Every effort to broaden support for Oracle schools will be attempted,” Blauser promised.
Blauser emphasized that approval of the override is simply a continuation of the existing override so there will be no increase in property taxes. The school part of the local property tax is only about 24 cents per $100,000 of property valuation.
Superior Unified School District (SUSD) is likewise seeking continuation of its existing 15 percent override.
“We are in our fifth year of the current override, so we are going to the voters to keep it 15 percent,” said SUSD Superintendent Patrick O’Donnell. “Otherwise beginning in 2015 we’ll have to start trimming the maintenance and operations budget.”
Under Arizona law, overrides are authorized by voters for only seven years. If not approved for another full term after the fifth year, the tax override is reduced by one-third in the sixth year, two-thirds in the seventh year, and reaches zero in the eighth year.
To promote approval of the override referendum, at least one citizens group has been formed to take the message to citizens throughout the district. A major tool of his group is a slide show promoting the value of education and how it benefits the community – and how cutbacks in instruction programs can have an adverse effect – that will be presented at church and other meetings.
“Approval of the override also will help SUSD modify its loss of $69,000 in Title 1 funds, provided as a federal grant to help students needing help in mastering reading,” O’Donnell said. He added that if the additional funding to school recently ordered by Maricopa County Judge Katherine Cooper were forthcoming, Superior would get an additional $75,000 in state funding, which also would cover the Title 1 loss.
Approval of the override will keep the schools’ share of the local property tax at $1.34 per $100,000 property valuation.
The Ray Unified School District in Kearny is asking voters to approve a 10 percent tax override in November to keep from having to trim its budget and educational programs. A spokesperson for the district said Ray officials have studied how school districts in Miami and Casa Grande promoted their override referendum to victory in 2013 and will try to do likewise.
Approval of the Ray override will keep the schools’ share of the local property tax at $1.06 per $100,000 property valuation.