By a margin of 28 votes, people in the Amphitheater School District have passed Proposition 403, the maintenance and operations property tax override used by the district to maintain lower class sizes, offer expanded elementary school art, music and physical education classes, and bolster teacher compensation.
Voters rejected Proposition 404, a capital budget override, by a margin of 354 votes.
On Tuesday morning, officials within the district awaited the Pima County Elections Department's announcement of official final results for the two budget overrides. There were 36 votes to be counted.
When the results were final, Todd Jaeger, the school district's attorney, gave the silent live video feed camera a thumbs-up. He was surrounded by other smiling school officials, who went instantly to their phones.
Proposition 403, the maintenance and operations override, was approved by 28 votes, with 9,792 (50.07 percent) in favor, 9,764 (49.93 percent) against.
Proposition 404, the capital override, was defeated by 354 votes, with 9,977 (50.9 percent) against, 9,623 (49.1 percent) in favor.
In the days following the election, margins went both in favor of and against Proposition 403, while Proposition 404 never had a majority of votes cast.
Thursday afternoon, when Proposition 403 was ahead by five votes, Amphitheater School District Superintendent Dr. Vicki Balentine was "cautiously joyful."
"The bottom line is we can't declare we have lost," Balentine said. "We are cautiously optimistic that we have a continuation of the M&O override that is very critical for the students in our district in their class sizes, elective offerings, art, music and P.E. that make for a well-rounded education."
Scott Little, Amphitheater School District's chief financial officer, was optimistic as the votes continue to be tallied through the week.
"We could just have a couple hundred (uncounted ballots) and it could still make a difference in the outcome of this," Little said late last week. "I have seen this on many an occasion. But, I'm not saying it guarantees the results are going to change. I am just saying it isn't over yet."
A little before noon on Tuesday, the Pima County Elections Department posted the final unofficial and un-audited results on their website.
"I think of all the things that has impressed me and the average parent, employee and community members, was the value of a single vote," Balentine said Tuesday.
"We certainly still have a challenge of the capital that remains and it's a big challenge, but it is certainly a challenge that is less daunting than the removal of the $7.5 million in override funds," Balentine added.
The capital budget override proposed was designed to help the district upgrade its computer labs and network equipment. It would also have been used to buy textbooks, replace computer workstations, furniture, fixtures and equipment.
With the state still trying to balance its budget and the fear of more capital budget cuts next year, Little said the district has not spent any of its budgeted "soft" capital money, in preparation for possible cuts.
"We are waiting to see what happens," Little said. "We started off the year with the capital frozen… so we never allocated any capital money to the sites this year."
Chairwoman Susan Zibrat of LEAP AHEAD for Amphi Schools, a political action committee that supported the overrides, struggled to understand why either proposition would have failed because they are both "tax-neutral propositions." Proposition 403 continues an existing, voter-approved property tax; if 404 would have passed, the district would have managed repayment of bonds so that annual tax bills would not increase.
The close vote on Amphi's two propositions has Zibrat facing what she thinks is Tucson's next challenge. She thinks longtime residents believe they are paying too much in taxes, but people who move from outside Arizona find relief in property taxes.
"To be quite honest, if I didn't have to pay taxes I would be happy, too," Zibrat said. "But I always put 'you get what you pay for' – I always make that correlation. And I want a quality of life and I am willing to pay for that. I think education is so important and it needs to be valued."
Proposition 403 will continue the current maintenance and operations budget override of about $7.5 million each school year. Proposition 404 would have added a capital budget override of about $2 million each school year.
If Proposition 403 was defeated, the school district would have phased out the current budget override by cutting expenses of about $2.7 million annually over the course of three years, until the current, voter-approved override expired.
The maintenance and operations budget override has allowed Amphitheater to maintain lower class sizes in core subjects, to offer expanded elementary school art, music and physical education classes, to provide academic assistance programs, and to augment teacher compensation, among other uses.
In 2005, voters passed the current maintenance and operations budget override. At that time, the proposition passed by a 2-1 margin, 66.03 percent to 33.97 percent. The turnout in 2005 represented 8.3 percent of registered voters. This year, out of 71,029 registered voters, 28.1 percent voted.
According to Arizona statute, there are no automatic recounts for propositions that do not amend the state's constitution.
For 9,792 votes (50.07 percent)
Against 9,764 votes (49.93 percent)
For 9,623 (49.1 percent)
Against 9,977 (50.9 percent)
Pima County elections department, as of noon Tuesday