After several public comments that essentially said, "We cannot depend on the federal government, or the state government. We, our community, must help ourselves," Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) Governing Board voted Tuesday night to send a $28M bond to the voters. They also voted to ask voters for a 10% budget override.
What's the Difference?
Both a bond and an override? What is the difference between the two types of funding?
Superintendent Dave Smucker explained, "In simplistic terms, a bond is around what we like to say is 'bricks and mortar'. So, bond monies to take care of our facilities. We really don't have any plans right now to build something new. It's maintaining what we have... [For example,] energy management, we have single-paned windows in schools. Really, it's around bricks and mortar. An override is around attracting and retaining teachers and programs."
When asked if an override could be used for teacher raises, Smucker replied, "You could, yes you could. Or to keep programs that we have for students."
"If you have an override that is successful, there is a lot more freedom as to what that money can be used for," Smucker explained.
About the Bond
The bond justification was developed by a committee made of local citizens, with pertinent input from district personnel. Bond monies go towards infrastructure, but cannot be used for personnel costs. If the bond is approved, a proposed "Citizen Accountability Committee... will actively scrutinize the district's planning and implementation of the bond program. This committee will work with our district staff to bring accountability to the delivery of the projects in this bond," explained Greg Mengarelli, representing the bond committee.
Read Mengarelli's entire remarks: Strong Schools Build Strong Communities
The bond monies will go towards seven types of projects:
- Safety Improvements: $5,594,026
- Buildings & Grounds Maintenance Projects: $8,242,892
- Energy Management: $3,575,250
- Technology District-wide: $7,863,722
- Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment Replacement: $239,004
- Athletic Faclities: $763,200
- Transportation: $1,600,000
Download a detailed list of projects here: Bond Expenditures
Originally, the consultant prepared financial information based on a $30M bond, and that is the figure offered last night. Since the board voted to seek a $28M bond instead, the estimates are a bit high. Therefore, the bond is expected to cost less than $.3485 per $100 of Assessed Valuation of the property for a homeowner.
Based on an average home price of $185,000, the annual tax levy would be slightly less than $64.47.
Bond money cannot be used for salaries, programs or services.
About the Override
In the document prepared by the Interest Based Team, which consists of representatives from within PUSD, the opening statement reads:
"Confident students prepared for tomorrow's challenges and opportunities" is the vision of Prescott Unified School District. In order to continue to achieve our goal and provide the highest standard of education our children and community deserve, we must continue to innovate and build on the successful programs we have in place.
"Prescott Unified School District strives to provide the highest quality of education for our students. This requires various cutting-edge approaches such as strong college and community partnerships, technology offerings, and a 21st Century focus. This includes a comprehensive academic experience featuring fine arts, career technical education, sports, physical education and other extra curricular learning opportunities."
The override is expected to address four specific areas.
- Fiscal Responsibility
- Programs and Attracting Students
- Attracting and Retaining Quality Staff
- Health and Safety
Addressing the concern about the district having to use money from non-replenishable funds each year in order to balance the budget, it is hoped that this override will take care of this shortcoming. "Currently $906,000 of this money is being used to mainain the PUSD budget. When this savings is depleted, the district will need to reconcile its budget. This could mean reductions of up to 20 teachers, which eliminates programs and increases class sizes... In order for the district to continue high standards for our students and community, the IBT recommends an override to contribute to the resolution of these issues."
Programs and Attracting Students
Perhaps the most significant question to answer regarding the override is this, "What will an override do for my kids?"
That is answered in the Interest Based Team document:
"PUSD will shape the future of our educational community by increasing the availability of 21st Century learning opportunities through state-of-the-art, technology-equipped schools. An override in Prescott Unified will build learning opportunities for our youth as well as increased partnerships within the community. This will include a community technology center within our high school . This center will provide students with flexible scheduling and increased course offerings. It will also allow greater collaboration with colleges for more dual credit and vocational certification options upon graduation. In addition, students will have .opportunities for more online and distance learning courses, as well as multiple pathways of learning for all students. Technology preparedness for all students will extend to the elementary and middle schools."
Attracting and Retaining Quality Staff
Noting that the PUSD average salary scales for all stafffall far below state averages, the committee is recommending an increase to the overall salary structure for the entire district. "The average teacher in PUSD is compensated at 6% below Arizona state average, and 33% below the national average."
Health and Safety
The committee is also recommending an increase in mental health and safety support services, in order "...to support our students' emotional, mental, social, and behavioral needs."
The cost of an override will be approximately $.3241 per $100 Assessed Valuation on an owner occupied residence.
Based on an average home price of $185,000, the annual tax levy would be approximately $59.96.
Download the Interest Based Team Report here.
The bond and the override together will add roughly $125 per year to an average property tax bill. That's about $10 per month.
Mengarelli isn't put off by that. "We're really excited about the Board's decision to move forward. We think it's the right thing for the community and the students, it's long overdue. The state has made it really clear that we need to generate revenues locally with all the cuts we've had since 2008... We believe that it's really educating the community. We hope that once they understand the situation the district is in, we're hopeful that they'll vote in favor of this bill."
Mengarelli acknowledges, "We do have an older demographic in Prescott, but I am hopeful that once they truly understand our needs, they will get behind this. You can't just continue to cut and cut and cut. The average age of our school buildings is 67 years. A couple of the buildings are over 100 years old. So a lot of the deferred maintenance has been pushed off, because we haven't gotten the building renewal fund for several years from the state."
But, can the community afford an extra $125 per month? "You know what? It may be a tough sell," Smucker admitted. "But, I think the presentation this evening, in thinking about our community, and the growth of our community and where our community is headed, and more importantly, the children, our future - it's time. It's time to support our schools. And we talk about the federal government, and the state government, that have their hands in everything - this is an opportunity for local control to take a stronghold and say, 'What's best for our kids and our community?'And, you know what? It's our job, my job, as a superintendent, to make sure that those tax dollars are being spent in the appropriate way, in ways that are going to help student learning and help them for the future. And help our community for the future. We need to support our kids. It's time and I'm excited about this opportunity."