Sept. 1, 2004 - Explaining Arizona's tax system and how it relates to school finance can be difficult.

Just ask a group of Amphitheater Public School District parents and teachers who spent nearly two hours grappling with the subject Aug. 26 at Ironwood Ridge High School.

The group heard about primary taxes, secondary taxes, exceptions, deferrals and valuations.

And that was just an overview.

But as they listened to the presentation given by Pima County Chief Deputy Superintendent Scott Little, the questions rolled as the group tried to understand how taxes are assessed and how changes in that formula would affect homeowners in the Amphi school district.

It is important this particular group of appointed volunteers wrap their heads around this complex subject.

This Blue Ribbon Committee is charged with examining educational funding for Amphitheater Public Schools, considering current and proposed program offerings, and recommending a course of action to the district's governing board that may include a recommendation to seek voter approval of an override of the maintenance and operations budget.

Amphitheater has been exploring the possibility of an override for nearly two years.

An override would give the district voter approval to spend more money than state formulas normally allow. These formulas cap a school district's spending, regardless of its area's tax revenue.

The Blue Ribbon Committee has been given eight months to study an override and make a recommendation to the governing board as to whether the district should move forward with a ballot question.

Co-chaired by parents Lynne DeStefano and Susan Zibrat, the committee is scheduled to meet twice a month. Meetings began in June and will end in December.

During the sessions the group of 15 parents, staff and administrators is being presented with information on topics ranging from district demographics to No Child Left Behind legislation to requirements of Arizona's law governing which meetings a school district must open to the public.

All of the committee's meetings are open to the public.

The Aug. 26 meeting also addressed NCLB, testing and accountability, curriculum changes and how all of that relates to money and resources.

It would cost $60,000 to place an override onto the ballot in a general election in November, and closer to $100,000 if the district were to decide to hold the election in March or May, according to associate superintendent and chief legal counsel Todd Jaeger.

The governing board moved in April to form a committee that would study a possible override to make sure it had support from the public before going ahead with a costly election.

"Since each governing board member represents the entire Amphitheater community, a committee recommendation for the governing board to seek an override of the maintenance and operations budget should be one that can be supported by the various publics in the district," Superintendent Vicki Balentine stated in letter to the public dated April 26, when she announced to the public the formation of the "Blue Ribbon Budget Analysis Committee."

All of the scheduled meetings are aimed at giving the committee the background it needs to make a recommendation to the governing board. The next meeting, scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Amphitheater Middle School, 315 East prince Road, will address enrollment and budgets, among other topics.

If the committee decides, in December, to suggest that the board seek a budget override election, the first possible election date will be May 17, 2005, for an override that would be effective in 2005-06.

The committee still has a lot of information to hear and discuss in the next four months, and its members have said they will refrain from commenting about the process until it is all said and done.

But as Little told the group at the Aug. 26 meeting, "There is no simple way to explain it other than to say that for every $100,000 of value in property this is what you're going to pay in taxes. It's really the only way you can explain it to the average taxpayer."

He said it has been his experience that taking the time to do what this committee is doing, to be sure an override is needed and wanted, and to get the information out to the rest of the public is worth its weight in gold, or at least in yes votes.

"If your uses are good and sound, if they are business related issues, there will be very little opposition," he said. "There's community buy-in."

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