Local districts push to pass school funding measures on November ballot

Phoenix Union High School District is trying to renew an override and pass a bond on the Nov. 7 ballot. (Stephanie Morse/DD)

Local school districts are hoping three funding measures will pass, they say are necessary to maintain and improve the livelihood of their schools.

Three funding measures for downtown school districts are on the mail-in ballot for the Nov. 7 election: Two overrides and one bond.

Both Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) and Phoenix Elementary School District (PESD) are trying to renew existing Maintenance and Operations Overrides to continue to support existing programs, services and instruction. PUHSD is also hoping voters approve a $269 million bond to primarily fund building maintenance and improvements.

Bonds and overrides are voter-approved tax increases. The extra funds a school districts receive from these measures can cover teacher salaries, education programs, supplies, technology, building maintenance and more depending on the nature of the bond or override. The bonds also only last for a specific amount of time so districts must pass new bonds or try to renew existing overrides every several years.

The bond on PUHSD’s ballot would increase property taxes 38 cents per hundred dollars of a property’s assessed value. For a home worth $100,000 in the school district, this would amount to an increase of $38 per year. If passed, the bond would provide the school district with $269 million in additional funding.

According to Craig Pletenik, communications director for PUHSD, the money would be used for maintenance and construction of school facilities, electronics necessary for classrooms, furniture, replacement of old buses and expanding the district’s online learning programs.

Pletenik said the school district needs the bond passed to properly maintain the district’s aging buildings in light of state cuts to education funding.

“After a while, you just can’t do the accounting tricks anymore without capital,” he said.

RELATED: PUHSD still feels impact of education funding cuts

PUHSD also has an override measure on the ballot to pay for more than 400 teachers and support staff in the district. If passed, this measure would renew an existing override from 2013 and not result in any new property tax increases

The override’s funding lasts seven years and begins to decrease in its fifth year, dropping lower in its sixth and seventh years. PUHSD hopes to extend the funding, worth $24.3 million, before the decrease occurs.

The other override measure on the ballot provides funding for PESD. Like the override measure for PUHSD, this measure would extend an existing override resulting in no new tax increases.

According to Larry Weeks, the superintendent for PESD, the override provides between $4 and $5 million in extra funding, depending on student enrollment in the district. Weeks said the funds go toward ensuring small class sizes and funding programs for art, music and physical education.

Weeks said the district has been able to use override funding as a supplement for a long time thanks to local support.

“We’ve been very fortunate that our local community has been very supportive of Phoenix elementary, and we appreciate that a lot,” he said.

The state cut millions from K-12 education during the Great Recession and has still not restored funding to pre-recession levels, despite some modest increases in recent years. This has increased district’s reliance on bonds and overrides to provide extra funding.

“The local taxpayers have shouldered a lot of burden,” said Mark Joraanstad, executive director of Arizona School Administrators. “It’s time, probably, for the state to reform the financial system, and maybe for the state to really take a hard look at the state assuming a little greater burden of funding schools.”

Weeks also emphasized inadequate school funding is a problem occurring across the state. He said he would like to encourage residents to vote for local school funding measures.

“Strong public schools create strong communities,” he said.

Ballots for the November election will be mailed to every eligible voter. Completed ballots must be received by Maricopa County no later than 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Contact the reporter at tjtriolo@asu.edu.