Once again, an override for the Maricopa Unified School District is on the ballot.
This time the debate’s a little different.
First, some of this override’s supporters have voted against overrides in the past.
Second, the override MUSD is attempting to pass Nov. 6 is different from what the district unsuccessfully proposed four times since 2009.
If approved, the measure would be a two-year, 5-percent property-tax override to generate $1.35 million for the school district.
In terms of property taxes, that translates to a $57.70 a year on a home assessed at $100,000.
Unlike previous overrides, the funds will only be allocated to specific district needs.
To reduce class size, $650,000 would go to hire more teachers. The blended-learning program would get $250,000 to expand, and $150,000 woud go additional instructional technology for classroom use.
Another $150,000 would go to improving teacher retention through partial reinstatement of the teacher salary schedule, and $150,000 would be use to improve retention of classified staff, which is comprised of teacher aides, secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, etc., through a 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment, the first since 2008.
The shorter-term, lower-percentage and targeted allocation of funds helped change the mind of Clint Augustyn.
Augustyn has voted against overrides in the past but is now chairman of Maricopa Cares, an advocacy group raising money for advertising, signs and other efforts to support the current initiative.
Augustyn said he voted against previous override efforts because, “Each time, the proposal seemed to be to continue what the school district was already doing, and yet too often our district is looked at as being mediocre.”
“The issue I’ve always had is with the education establishment,” Augustyn said. “There seems to be this attitude that money solves everything.”
Also, the numbers didn’t seem to quite add up.
The last override he voted against was a five-year, 15-percent override, which Augustyn said “would have replaced all lost funding and added an additional amount.”
“Yet the promotional efforts seemed to say that teachers would lose jobs if we did not approve,” Augustyn said.But when the result of the last failed attempt “was a perception that the community did not support education,” Augustyn said he was offended.
He has children who attend district schools, after all.
So he contacted the school board, spoke with Superintendent Steve Chestnut and ultimately was a part of the group that met with Chestnut to give input on what a new override attempt should look like.
He pointed out the current override initiative would only replace half of the state funding the district lost.
“The No. 1 argument against it is the district needs to live within its means,” Augustyn said. “I’m convinced the Maricopa schools have been as careful as they can be with their funding.”
He likened the override to a family living within its budget that still may need to request a raise from its employers when living expenses increase.
In essence, the override is the district requesting a raise from its employer, he said.
School board member Patti Coutre supports passing the override as both a board member and a parent with three children enrolled in district schools. A four child, who went through MUSD, attends the University of Arizona on a scholarship.
“As a board member, I can tell you the need is there, (the override) has to be there,” Coutre said.
Coutre supports the override because of its targeted spending plan, particularly the focus on retaining teachers.
She said the retention of teachers is a crucial part of a school’s success, and points to Pima Butte Elementary, which has earned a national letter grade of “A” for several consecutive years, as an example of what a stable teacher core can help accomplish.
“It’s not going to administrative raises,” Coutre said. “We need the bus drivers, we need the janitors, we need all these people.”
The district’s operating budget has continued to contract since 2009, when it was $40 million, to the $31.6 million budget passed for the 2012-2013 school year.
That budget provides a base-pay raise for teachers and keeps and all-day kindergarten in place.
“Maricopa can’t control what we get from the state, but we can control what we do locally,” Coutre said.