Voters will be asked for the third time in as many years to approve a 15% override to provide additional funding for schools in the Queen Creek Unified School District (QCUSD) next November 3.
Members of the QCUSD School Board unanimously approved the creation of the ballot initiative during a special board meeting held on June 23. The vote sets in motion the drafting of the necessary docume3nts to get the initiative on the November ballot.
Under Arizona law, school districts can ask voters to increase M&O (Maintenance and Operations) budgets by up to 15% over the funding provided by the legislature through an increase in their local property tax. The override is good for seven years but begins winding down by one-third each year beginning with the sixth year and reaches zero in the eighth year. As a result, school districts seek to renew their overrides every five years; more often when override referendum was initially rejected by voters.
In past years, QCUSD override initiatives have failed by slim margins. In November 2014, the vote was 2,209 Yes to 2,549 No, or only 46.4% in favor. On the same date, Queen Creek voters approved by a vote of 2,859 to 1,891 an $80 million bond issue to fund capital improvements in existing schools, construction of a new middle (or magnet) school and high school, and building school facilities in the underserved northern section of the District north of Warner Road.
The need for passage of a 15% override was outlined in a PowerPoint demonstration by QCUSD Chief Financial Officer Crystal Korpan during the meeting.
The main reason cited by Korpan was that the District has to offer competitive wages to not only attract qualified teachers, but also retain them. While QCUSD has not experienced the mass exodus of teachers as school districts elsewhere in the state, without offering existing teachers raises and hiking the starting salaries for instructors, the District could end up with the same problem, which could hinder the District’s ability to retain its “A” rating in the state.
Passage of the 15% override, which would raise an additional $4.3 million in school revenues, also would be used to improve the security at QCUSD schools; enhance athletic, ROTC and gifted student programs; and reduce class sizes, Korpan noted. QCUSD Superintendent Dr. Perry Berry added that the additional revenues also would fund improvements in academic programs that would better prepare students for college or for the workforce.
QCUSD is currently at the end of its earlier 15% override and without voter approval of a new override would have to operate strictly on state budget allocations, which in recent years have been reduced by the Arizona legislature by about $400 per student. Board member Judah Nativio added that while he dislikes having to go to voters for more funding, the District is left with no choice. He ironically noted that while Gov. Doug Ducey bragged at a recent luncheon that he never raised taxes, “but has forced 48 Arizona school districts to seek overrides.”
QCUSD will now draft the necessary paperwork to get its override ballot before voters on November 3. The paperwork must be filed by August 7 with the office of the Maricopa County Superintendent of Schools.