District wants to 'protect things we have'
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Estes Elementary School special education teacher Julie Cravey calls Marana residents during a phone bank event put on by a political action committee supporting the Marana Unified School District's 15 percent override election last week. The evening's goal was to make sure people were informed ahead of the March 9 vote.

If voters approve a 15 percent maintenance and operations budget override on Tuesday, March 9, the Marana Unified School District won't be adding new programs and services.

Instead, if the funding increase of an estimated $3.1 million a year is passed by voters, the school district plans to use the money to keep what it's got, given two years of reductions in state funding … and more such cuts ahead.

This override "is intended to try to save as much as we can save," Superintendent Doug Wilson said. "We're not adding anything." It is put forward to the voters "without any idea what the budget impacts are going to be from the state."

MUSD expects another cut in its state funding.

In her 2010-'11 budget proposal, Gov. Jan Brewer would ask the district to absorb a $4.5 million reduction in state revenues. In the last two years, MUSD has reduced its general fund budget by $8.6 million, with cuts of $1.5 million in spring 2008, $1.6 million in January 2009, $3.4 million in the spring of 2009 and $2.1 million in October. "It carries forward, it accumulates," Wilson said. "In essence, it does become annual. It's not coming back."

Marana Unified School District has an operating budget of $74.6 million this fiscal year. The current 10 percent override generates $6.2 million. If Proposition 400 — the only question on the ballot — passes March 9, the 10 percent override would be replaced with a 15 percent override, generating $9.3 million annually, a $3.1 million increase. It would take effect with the fiscal year that begins July 1, and extend "for six subsequent years," according to the sample ballot.

"We recognize this is a difficult economic time," Wilson said. "We are being as efficient as we can, we have cut costs in about every area. We are more efficient than we ever have been. We look every day to find a better mousetrap."

In a February mailing to residents, Wilson writes the additional money "would lessen" the impact of state cuts, and help the district maintain its present levels of service. "Specifically, our ability to continue to provide appropriate class sizes, full-day kindergarten and programs that support student success," he writes.

Without the additional override funds, class sizes likely would be expanded because there would be fewer teachers. Without the funds, full-day kindergarten may be returned to half-day kindergarten. Without the funds, "programs that support student success" including drama, band, art, music, athletics and after-school programs, things Wilson calls "the hooks" for achievement, could be affected.

"We know that when kids get engaged in something like that, it has a positive impact on their student achievement," Wilson said.

"We have identified these are priorities of our district, we have identified these are the priorities of our parents," said Tamara Crawley, MUSD director of public relations. "We know this. We won't use the money for anything other than to protect the things we have."

While MUSD wants to keep those levels of service, it cannot guarantee as much if the override is passed. That's because final state funding is yet to be determined.

"We don't know the extent of the positive impact" if the voters approve, Wilson said. "If it doesn't pass, it would have a significant negative impact."

He has no doubt state funding is going to decline. In Arizona, "there's a $3.2 billion deficit," Wilson said. "Forty-two percent of state funding goes to public education, K-12. We're pretty certain we are a target."

The environment was much different nearly three years ago. On May 15, 2007, the current 10 percent override passed by a vote of 2,410-1,800 (57.2-42.7 percent). Turnout represented 10.13 percent of the district's 41,686 registered voters.

"In 2007, the district had a fairly specific, long list of things added as services to the district" if the override were to pass, Wilson said. "That was much different than what we're discussing for 2010. In 2007, we had no threats, no budget cuts."

If the higher override does not pass, MUSD's 10 percent override would remain in place, with annual phase-down to commence.

Overrides, in place for a majority of Arizona school districts, represent "the one thing local taxpayers have control of for their local district," Wilson said. "It's the one thing local taxpayers have, to have a voice to assist local school districts."

A political action committee, MUSD Campaign 2010, has been formed to advocate for the override. Several letters to the editor have been submitted on either side of the override issue.

"On a daily basis, we hold the future in our hands," Wilson said of MUSD and its students. If voters "see that as an important thing," the override is a way "to help us out."



The March 9 vote


Marana Unified School District 15 percent maintenance and operations budget override

Special election Tuesday, March 9

Polls open 6 a.m.-7 p.m.

Early ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. that Tuesday.

Polling places:

Voting area 06-01 – Roadrunner Elementary School

Voting area 06-02 – Estes Elementary School

Voting area 06-03 – Coyote Trail Elementary School

Voting area 06-04 – Butterfield Elementary School

Voting area 06-05 – Desert Winds Elementary School

Voting area 06-06 – Quail Run Elementary School

Voting area 06-07 – Tortolita Middle School

Voting area 06-08 – Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary School




MUSD plans to keep secondary tax rate flat


Debt service funds would negate higher override


If Marana Unified School District voters say "yes" to a 15 percent property tax override on March 9, the district's secondary property tax would not increase in 2010-'11, Chief Financial Officer Dan Contorno said.

And, if voters approve the request, the district would use debt service funds to keep any secondary property taxes from the override as low as possible during its six-year duration, he added.

How can a property tax be increased, but not directly raise property taxes?

Higher assessed valuations have allowed the district to decrease its secondary tax rate every year since voters approved the current, 10 percent maintenance and operations override in 2007, said Contorno, MUSD's chief finance officer for more than six years and an 18-year district veteran.

Debt service funds have accumulated to $7 million, Contorno said, because of higher valuations through 2009-'10, low delinquent tax payments and savings in the district's "excess utilities" budget. The funds can only be used to make debt payments.

In 2010-'11, "we would use debt service to mitigate the impact of the additional $36 per $100,000 assessed valuation" from the higher override, he continued. "A taxpayer is not going to see, based on this override, any increase in the tax rate."

Contorno said the district would use $4.395 million from the $7 million accumulation in 2010-'11 to keep the secondary tax rate at $1.67 per $100,000 assessed valuation, covering the district's bond principal and interest payments as well as the override. Beyond 2010-'11, the district hopes revenue in its debt service fund can keep the secondary tax rate at or near the current level. How? MUSD's bond principal and interest payments are scheduled to decline beginning in 2011-'12. Additionally, after a 4.7 percent decrease in the assessed valuation for 2010-'11 and an expected flat tax base in 2011-'12, MUSD is projecting 3 percent annual increases in the valuation, putting less pressure on the secondary property tax, Contorno said.

"Taxpayers seem to not like a yo-yo effect," Contorno said.

"We've kept it in the bank to buy down" secondary tax obligations, "and be consistent in our tax rate."

"Our strategy has been to keep it fairly consistent, not some giant decrease, then a significant increase," Superintendent Doug Wilson said. "Over the years, we have done everything we could to set the secondary tax rate at a level that's been consistent, and with the taxpayers' issues in mind.

"No big spikes," he continued. "That's what we've done over the last couple years."

Override revenues are derived from a secondary property tax.

"Primary property taxes are only used to fund the state equalization formula," Contorno said. "We have no control over that. The secondary property tax goes toward any voter-approved initiative."

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