On and before Nov. 3, Amphitheater School District voters should say "yes" to Propositions 403 and 404, the property tax overrides for operations and maintenance, and for capital outlay.
The overrides are not increases, proponents say. Proposition 403 is a continuation of an operations and maintenance override adopted 2-1 by voters in 2005, an admittedly different time. Proposition 404 is a new, $2 million annual capital override that would not increase taxes, district officials say. As older bonds are retired and district debt reduced, the override would be implemented with no net increase in taxes.
"If 404 does not pass, the secondary property tax will not go down," said Susan Zibrat, an Amphi parent and member of LEAP Ahead for Amphi Schools, the political action committee promoting the overrides. "'No' on 404 won't decrease any secondary property tax rate on capital facilities, nor will it increase."
Money from the overrides would be used for technology, equipment, electives and advance placement courses, teacher compensation, art, music and physical education classes, smaller class sizes and more. If the overrides are not passed, resources for those uses would diminish over time.
"For me, it's insuring that my children have a good education," said parent Lauren Hagan, who became more interested in school funding after "all the budget controversy last spring. It got to the point I was tired of complaining about it."
"We're not funding extravagances," she said. "To me, we're funding necessities."
Don't misunderstand — Hagan is "very happy with our schools. I also feel like we have the best of a not-so-great situation" in Amphitheater schools.
Hagan, involved in the parent-teacher organization at one of her children's schools, was familiar with PTOs funding the "nice to haves. Here, our PTOs, we fund necessities, books in the library, playground equipment." That's not a healthy circumstance.
The critics — Americans for Prosperity, among them — say Arizona school districts have "plenty of taxpayer money — more than enough to pay for excellent teachers and good administrators. The simple fact is that they are wasting much of your money."
School districts aren't perfect, certainly. Yes, there is waste, and school districts can always do better.
Yet, Zibrat asks, "why is there a perception school districts are the big black hole, bureaucratic? I don't understand that. It might come down to the way the public sector is perceived in general." She's right. Cynicism about government abounds.
Zibrat remembers the naysayers who served with her on the Amphi blue-ribbon budget analysis committee ahead of the 2005 override vote. After study, even the critics "were convinced" of the need, and the panel unanimously recommended putting the maintenance and operation override vote to the public.
She was part of a second blue-ribbon study on capital needs. Again, after examination, that group made unanimous recommendation for bonds, which passed in November 2007.
"If everyone could sit on a blue-ribbon committee, they could see it firsthand. We've been cutting back education for decades now," Zibrat said. "Amphi does a very good job with their resources."
Arizona state government won't be adding funds to education anytime soon. Anyone who watches the spectacle of legislating in Phoenix knows the state faces a huge deficit, on the order of $1.5 billion, and still growing. Communities could wait on the Legislature and our elected leaders to solve this budget mess, but this much is clear – it won't happen any time soon. There'll be more emotional agony, not unlike the anguish of last spring. And education costs will inevitably rise.
"Two years," as an example, "that's too long for kids," Hagan said, urging 'yes' votes. "You can affect this. It's our school."
It's "a local control element," Zibrat continues. "We need to get our kids trained and equipped. We need to keep up. We owe that to them. Someone did it for us."
Zibrat recognizes there is a "percentage of people who vote 'no.'" She puts it about 30 percent, and those people will vote. She wants to get the others out, too.
"Businesses in our district certainly recognize it benefits them to have good schools," Hagan said. A full range of economic and business organizations have endorsed the overrides.
We're in agreement. Let's send the message that schools matter, to the education community, to our children, to the business sector, to the Legislature and to the state's top elected officials. Let's put our money behind the message. Let's vote for 403 and 404.