Scottsdale school board looks to make good on override promises

a viewScottsdale officials are examining how classes like band will be restored with override funds.

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board is gaining a better understanding how much in override dollars will be available next year to Scottsdale schools.

But how those funds will be funneled to the classroom will ultimately be a part of the typical budgeting process, school officials say.

The Governing Board was provided it’s first maintenance and operations override budget presentation on Dec. 9, while board members also held a public hearing to evaluate the possibility of changes to expenditure limitations in fiscal year 2015.

“The state is still reducing our district additional assistance, previously known as unrestricted capital,” said Daniel O’brien, Scottsdale Schools chief financial officer. “As ADM (Average Daily Membership) comes out, and as the state figures out exactly where they are, the amount gets adjusted. We did have an adjustment there.”

Based on average daily membership — a method of counting the number of enrolled students at a given school based upon the first 100 days in session –state and federal funding fluctuates with student tallies, according to the Arizona Business & Education Coalition.

“We did reduce our M&O funds and our capital funds to make that adjustment,” he said. Later in the meeting, Mr. O’Brien noted the district override dollars are 15 percent of the district’s revenue control limit.

“We have had a large increase in our state and title grants and this was mainly due to the 21st Century grant approved after the board approved the budget.”

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.

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

Where the dollars go

School officials contend 90 percent of M&O dollars 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.

Today 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.

IMG_0534 FOR WEBScottsdale officials are examining how classes like band will be restored with override funds.

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 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 Independent archives.

Governing Board members asked questions concerning the pending judgment against the Arizona Legislature requiring the state to provide millions of dollars in unpaid annual currency inflation costs to Arizona school districts.

In addition, a topic of concern was how programs — such as band and strings– will be restored to fiscal year 2013-14 levels.

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby

“Didn’t we, for fiscal year 13-14, cut bands and strings?” asked Governing Board member Pam Kirby.

“Could we cost-out to see what it costs to go back to (fiscal year) 13-14, because if the enrollment declines, what are our actuals?”

Dr. Peterson pointed out those projections have been done, but actual budget dollars can’t be determined until the ADM is resolved.

“If our ADM declines we lose funding from the state,” Dr. Peterson explained. “That is a completely different bucket of funds.”

Ms. Kirby says if new inflation dollars do come, those dollars should be kept separate from override funds and reductions in ADM — and ought to go directly to improving the learning environment for children.

“It is vitally important to me that any inflation dollars are used in the classroom … as opposed to paying for infrastructure,” Ms. Kirby said following Dr. Peterson’s comments.

“This is to be under a microscope from the community. I know for a fact there are fifth-grade classrooms that are sitting at 25 (students),” she said noting the district focus to reduce class sizes. “Those families should not expect to go to 22 students. We need to work through that very carefully. The loss of ADM is going to be a big hit to our budget this year. Our budget committee needs to have some projections of what those dollars are going to be.”

By fiscal year 2015-16, classroom sizes should be no greater than 36 students at the high school level while first- and second-grade classrooms will hover between 27 and 32 students, according to a SUSD budget presentation.

Mr. O’Brien went on the record confirming that all employee groups within SUSD can expect a 2 percent bump in pay next fiscal year — something he says hasn’t happened over the last several years.

Governing Board member George Jackson says promises made to the general public must be kept.

“We need to make sure we do what we said we were going to do,” he said at the close of the override funding discussion. “That can’t be said enough.”

North Valley News Editor can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or you can follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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