MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Devin Carson

With a statewide vote on Proposition 123 coming in May, Maricopa Unified School District is mulling budget recommendations for the next two fiscal years.

The Budget Committee put together a list of “budget additions,” top 12 priorities ranging from critical to desirable. If Prop. 123 fails, several items will not be fulfilled. The most critical items, as voted by the committee, were reduction of class sizes and updated curriculum.

The budget recommendations are still a work in progress.

If Prop. 123 passes, it would mean a one-time payment of about $1.25 million to MUSD from the state.

“It is truly to reimburse us for funding that we did not receive over a four-year period,” Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “It’s a bit of a make-up by the Legislature. It’s a way to end the lawsuit and gives us an interesting revenue stream here as we consider our budget.”

The state Legislature was court-ordered to compensate schools for failing to make inflation adjustments. As part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought by the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, lawmakers placed the question on the ballot for voters.

Prop. 123 would draw approximately $3.5 billion from the Permanent Law Endowment Trust Fund over a 10-year period to pay the money owed.

“Prop. 123 is money that is past-due to our teachers and our schools,” board member Torri Anderson said. “This is not new money. This is money that was taken out of our schools clear back in ’08, ’09 and ’10.”

She recalled when the district had to “terribly RIF” teachers and increase class sizes after the Legislature swept Prop. 301 funds, earmarked to reduce class sizes and to make inflation pay for teachers. The “Inflation Settlement” and Prop. 123 came from the resulting litigation, Cave Creek v. DeWit.

The special election is May 17. If approved, those funds are immediately available in June, Chestnut said.

He said there is a good chance Prop. 123 will be approved, thanks to strong support voiced by Gov. Doug Ducey, who was originally a defendant in the case as state treasurer.

If it succeeds, MUSD is prepared to hire five new teachers with $275,000 to reduce class sizes, but only for a year.

“That was a conscious decision by the Budget Committee,” Chestnut said. “The hope is that our override will pass, and then those five positions could be funded the following year with override funds.”

Also on that one-year plan and reliant on Prop. 123 funds are curriculum updates, increased site budgets, longevity stipends for teachers and expansion of the Gifted program.

Items on the Fiscal Year 17 budget additions are two more security officers at the high school, two elementary counselors, three behavior techs, three mentor teachers, another nurse and five daily enrichment specialists.

The only top-priority item on the proposed additions list that is in both FY16 and FY17 is the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all staff. In 2016, it is a proposed 1-percent increase, paid for by Prop. 123 funds. In 2017, it is a 3-percent increase if the funding is there from a budget override.

That proposed budget override is on the November ballot. It asks for a 10-percent, seven-year override from voters in the district. Its aim is to hire 47 more teachers and add more technology.

The board must pass its budget by July.

Chestnut said the budget discussions have been more interesting because of Prop. 123.

MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson
MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson. Ph

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