Scottsdale Schools override ration discussion put on hold

0515Ns News Story (SUSD Budget)

The Scottsdale Unified School District has been granted the right to exceed its state-imposed spending limitation for the next seven fiscal years, but exactly how each dollar will be spent has yet to be finalized, officials say.

School officials contend 90 percent of the million-dollar shot in the arm will go directly to the classroom to help pay for full-day kindergarten, bump in teacher salaries, reduce class sizes by three and preserve “special” classes such as art, physical education and music.

The override represents $18.8 million of which $11.5 million are new dollars reauthorized by taxpayers in fiscal year 2015-16, school officials say.

Budgets have been reduced, class sizes have swelled and special offerings have dwindled –all of which district officials say is the result of two recent failed override renewal attempts and a steady decrease in enrollment districtwide.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board was expected to hear a budget presentation of the override dollar allocations on Tuesday, Nov. 18, but that conversation never happened.

“The (maintenance and operations) discussion was tabled on the Nov. 18 agenda due to the ambitious and lengthy information/discussion agenda that was presented,” said Governing Board President Bonnie Sneed in a Nov. 19 e-mail. “It was felt that we needed to devote more undivided attention to this discussion.”

School officials now say the primary override discussion will happen during a study session in December.

The district’s maintenance and operations budget in fiscal year 2014-15 is about $143 million, which is a $5 million decrease compared to last fiscal year’s total.

The override will cost homeowners within the taxing district of Scottsdale Schools 41 cents of total tax per $100 of assessed valuation in property tax, according to Daniel O’Brien, Scottsdale Schools chief financial officer.

SUSD has 31 schools, which includes an online offering, within its boundaries. Last year just over 24,000 students were enrolled in Scottsdale Schools.

“The override has passed, so we do know that new dollars are coming in the new fiscal year,” said Mr. O’Brien in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

The conversation expected was to better understand the promises made by Scottsdale Schools administration during the months leading up to the November election, according to Mr. O’Brien.

“The message today is really just to let the board and the public know that we know that we have won the override. The message tonight is to say, ‘OK let’s look back at what we did promise.’”

There are a few things Mr. O’Brien says are a given.

“We know we need teachers. We know we are going to be reducing class sizes,” he said. “I might not know how many teachers but we are going to hire teachers, so I need to get out in early spring and recruit them.”

The delineation of dollars

Governing Board President Bonnie Sneed says the influx to dollars in Scottsdale Schools will be manifested in a few ways for local educators.

“In addition to receiving a long-awaited pay increase, teachers will see fewer students per day,” she said.

“Lowered ratios will allow teachers to devote more time to providing quality, differentiated instruction for each student. Teachers will be able to spend more time on instruction, content and lesson planning, rather than increased record-keeping involved with having such large classes.”

Bonnie Sneed

Bonnie Sneed

Ms. Sneed says override dollars will have the focus of providing a better educational environment for current and future students.

“The lower student-teacher ratio will be beneficial to students because it will result in more individual attention for each child,” she explained.

“The passage of the override also allows Scottsdale Unified School District to maintain all-day kindergarten, enabling our students to have a distinct advantage when it comes to reading by third grade.”

Classes like art, music and physical education, in some cases, were reduced to half-frequency occasions for students this school year due to budget constraints, which Ms. Sneed points out will be a thing of the past.

“We are very excited that the elementary ‘specials,’ which were reduced by half this current school year, will be restored to the full 2013-14 capacities,” she said.

“The fine arts and physical education classes were not directly impacted at the middle and high school levels by the many previous years of cuts, but those programs will certainly benefit from future support due to increased elementary participation.”

Ms. Sneed calls “special” classes the “hallmark of a quality education.”

“Funding of these programs will allow the district to offer uninterrupted sequential learning in the arts and physical education for all students across the district,” she said.

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby, who was re-elected to the governing board in this month’s election, says she intends to “absolutely” make sure override promises are kept.

“I think it is incumbent as board members and also as a community,” she said in a Nov. 19 phone interview.

“I think a large part of the community believes there are efficiencies to be found. I want to continue to look at efficiency. We can send even more money to the classroom.”

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