Budget override: Apache Junction school district asks voters for 15% funding increase

Voters in the Apache Junction Unified School District will decide Nov. 4 whether to approve a 15 percent budget override that would raise approximately $3.2 million each year.

The override would allow the district to prevent large class sizes, improve school safety and offer competitive salaries to teachers, Superintendent Chad Wilson said in a Sept. 18 phone interview.

The district governing board voted in June to put the override on the ballot, Mr. Wilson said.

The district’s first override passed in 1999 and was renewed in 2003. Further votes failed in May 2007 and November 2007, 2009 and 2010. “One of the things our board has tried hard to do over the past five years is be honest with the community about our financial need,” Mr. Wilson said. “The need we have is significant enough that 15 (percent) would satisfy that need.”

AJUSD is a public school district serving students in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon. It includes four elementary schools, a middle school, an alternative school and a high school. For more information, visit its website.

Budget overrides permit additional spending by school districts by taxing property in their boundaries, Mr. Wilson said.

If passed, the override would allow the district to exceed the state budget control limit by 15 percent for seven years, Mr. Wilson said. Overrides must be reapproved by voters every five years; if an override is not reapproved, it begins a phase-down process, reducing by one-third each year until it expires in the seventh year.

If the override passes, the average homeowner in the district, with a house worth approximately $109,000, would pay about $109 per year extra on his or her property tax, Mr. Wilson said. If passed Nov. 4, it would go into effect in July 2015.

“All of these dollars would go toward helping people or programs,” Mr. Wilson said.

Three of the main objectives of the district are to improve school safety, reduce class sizes and increase teacher salaries, Mr. Wilson said.

School safety would be improved by bringing a school resource officer to each campus in the district, Mr. Wilson said. Beyond creating a safer environment, having an officer in students’ lives every day helps them build a relationship that is “different than usual,” the superintendent added.

“Our school resource officers were often made aware of a problem before it became a reality,” he said.

The funds would also go toward reducing class sizes, which Mr. Wilson said have grown unwieldy in recent years. The targeted class size for the high school, for example, is 33.

“When you look at our high school campus right now, we have classes running up as high as 38 or 39,” Mr. Wilson said.

The override would also help retain teachers who leave the district for better pay elsewhere. One-third of the district’s classified staff, and half of its overall staff, turns over each year, Mr. Wilson said.

“If you’re having to retrain your workforce every year, there’s a lot of loss that occurs because of that,” the superintendent said. “Many people like working here but can make more money working someplace else.”

The budget override is important to all community members, even those without children in the district, Mr. Wilson said.

“When you look at what drives the quality of a community… one of those things is the quality of the school system,” he said. “Just because someone doesn’t have kids doesn’t mean it is useless to them.”

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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