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Proposed bill would allow some school districts to keep more funds local

3/15/17

Elizabeth Medora
Staff

NORTH VALLEY – Representative Heather Carter has introduced HB2001 this session, which would allow non-state aid school districts that don’t have overrides in place to keep more funds local. This bill would not be an additional tax; essentially, it redirects some of the taxes already being collected so they’re used locally.

This bill would affect several Arizona school districts, including the Cave Creek Unified School District. Currently, CCUSD and the other affected districts’ taxpayers contribute to the State Equalization Tax fund, which evens out funding among Arizona school districts.

“The established formula aims to “equalize” per-pupil spending among school districts, taking into account student enrollment and property values. Under the current school finance formula, school districts receive approximately the same amount of funding per pupil,” Arizona Senate Research Staff wrote in an October 2016 State Senate Issue Brief, ‘Arizona’s School Finance System’.

However, CCUSD and other districts in similar situations don’t receive state aid, they’re paying into the general fund, and they don’t have the added financial cushion of an override. HB2001 would allow these non-state aid districts without an override to keep more of that funding generated by their local tax bases. Under HB2001, these affected districts would receive the average funding per pupil of neighboring districts’ overrides.

“About 3 years ago, our CCUSD school district taxes dropped so low, that the state started assessing an additional tax on our homeowners called “Additional Education Aid—Cave Creek” as part of our tax bills. This tax collects about $5.4 million dollars that goes out of the district and into the General Fund,” CCUSD Superintendent Dr. Debbi Burdick wrote in a March 2017 Superintendent’s Message. “CCUSD is a “non-state aid” district, meaning that our CCUSD taxes pay for our schools and we do not receive our funding from the General Fund. However, almost all school districts and all charters do get their funding from this fund. So, our additional tax is funding our district neighbors who also have overrides, but none of this tax goes to support CCUSD schools. We would like to keep funding generated by our community in our community.”

All the districts that, at this time, would be affected by HB2001 are small; CCUSD is the largest of the group, with approximately 5,400 students. If HB2001 goes through, it only applies to school districts that don’t have overrides in place and would no longer apply to any of the currently affected school districts if they passed an override in the future. If the bill passes, CCUSD would be able to keep an additional $3.9 million per year of the money that’s already being collected from the community in the district.

“It wouldn’t change anything for our taxpayers from what they’re currently paying,” Burdick explained in a phone interview. “It keeps CCUSD tax money in CCUSD.”

CCUSD has been battered financially many times over in the past decade; since the state incorporated a large housing area with no student population into the CCUSD, the district has never passed an override. Their administrative staff has been cut repeatedly, including a 24 percent decrease in administrative staff in 2008. Teacher pay has been consistently low, and the district has had to cut back on support staff, including nurses, counselors, and librarians.

Despite the financial cuts, the district continues to receive excelling ratings and has developed some of the state’s most innovative language immersion programs. Burdick credits this success to the teamwork and dedication of CCUSD’s staff. If HB2001 passes, the plan in CCUSD is to use those extra funds to reduce class size, raise teachers’ salaries, and bring back some of the support staff.

“We have fantastic people here in CCUSD who are truly in education for the right reasons,” Burdick said. “We would just love to be able to compensate them a little more, and also reduce our class sizes.”

Local residents who want to share opinions on HB2001 can email their legislators and let them know how they feel about the proposition; see contact information at www.azleg.gov.

Read more about HB2001 at https://apps.azleg.gov/BillStatus/BillOverview/68398.