Amphi reaping budget override benefits - Tucson Local Media: Import

Amphi reaping budget override benefits

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Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2005 11:00 pm

June 29, 2005 - With the benefit of a nearly $7 million voter-approved maintenance and operations budget override, Amphitheater Public Schools' 2005-06 budget includes money to add class electives, hire more teachers and lower class sizes.

The district has a budget of $87.3 million with additional funds provided for in unrestricted capital, which can be used in almost all areas of the budget, from textbook purchasing to teacher salaries. The final proposed budget, which will be voted on after a public hearing July 5 at the regularly scheduled school board meeting, is set at $106.4 million.

For the first time since 1979, the district is seeing a substantial increase in maintenance and operations money, thanks to the override, Chief Financial Officer Scott Little said. The maintenance and operations budget increased 7.7 percent from 2004-05, when it was projected at $81,065,126, to this year's $87,308,334.

Many residents within the district boundaries fought to pass the override, saying class sizes were too large, more electives were needed and an increase in the number of teachers was desperately needed. With the override money, the district is looking to add about 76 full-time positions, Little said. He added that he is keeping a close eye on where the money is being spent so if there is any to spare and another teaching position can be added he can allocate money for it.

Because the override money was allocated for certain areas before the election, Little said there is little leeway for the district to allocate the money differently, now.

Plans for the override money will include an increase in the number of internships, from 25 to at least 100, available to high school students. More electives and advance placement courses are set to be offered this year.

Little said that just by looking at the district's Web site you can see the money working, because, new positions are posted each day and new jobs within the district open up.

"The wheels were in motion the day after the election," he said, adding that the district will be diligent with how it is spending taxpayer's dollars.

Amphi taxpayers will see a slight increase in their secondary property tax bill with the 2005-06 budget. The budget sets an estimated rate of $2.20 per $100 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $200,000 home would pay about $440 in district secondary property tax next fiscal year. The rate for the current year is $1.80 per $100, or about $360 in property tax for the same $200,000 home.

The primary tax rate decreased slightly from last year. This year the taxpayer will have to pay about $860 for a $200,000 home.

Little has been working on a bond consolidation since February and just last week was able to refinance it, which will save the taxpayers $290,000, he said. That's just another way, he said, that the district is looking out for the taxpayers' dollars.

"Every bit counts," he said.

Diana Boros, a district parent and member of the Blue Ribbon Committee that helped create and pass the override, said she is excited the district will have more money to work with in the upcoming school year and in the years to come.

"We're going to get a lot of bang for our buck for this," she said.

She said that in two years students should start demonstrating the benefits of the override through better test scores. She said they will benefit from more teachers, smaller classes, internships and increased electives. Patty Clymer, board vice president, said she is looking forward to making use of the override money in the coming school year.

"It's wonderful," she said. "It's the first time since I've been on the board that we've been able to have some increases."

Even though the board still has to approve the budget, Clymer said she is happy with the proposed budget the way it is and will be calling for no changes.

"We've never had a problem as far as approving the budget," she said, "because with what money we have had in the past I think our district has done a good job allocating it."

In a phone message, Superintendent Vicki Balentine said she is looking forward to hiring the new teachers and making use of the override money.

Another addition to the budget is the cost of a new all-day kindergarten program at Rio Vista Elementary School for the upcoming school year, Little said. Currently, Prince, Keeling and Nash elementary schools all have full-day kindergarten classes.

Clymer did say that she was disappointed that Arizona did not increase the amount of money it provides school districts and added that it is difficult to make ends meet when annual obligations constantly increase.

One area of increase that will affect all school districts this year involves the Arizona State Retirement System. All employees will be required to contribute 7.4 percent of their pay beginning July 1. Employers will match that percentage. Next year, the number will increase to 9.10 percent, which also will be matched by employers.

Although in the long run employees will benefit from the increase in the retirement fund, the employer contribution will cost the district about $750,000, Little said.

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