How do bonds and overrides help fund Arizona’s public K-12 schools?
Arizona school districts are asking voters in their communities to approve bonds and overrides ballot measures in the Nov. 5 election to generate funding through local property taxes that schools can use for a set time and purpose.
Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission Video: November 2019 Elections – What are bond and override questions?
This year, 49 of Arizona’s 223 public school districts statewide, or 21.97 percent, are seeking bonds and overrides, with more than half of those in Maricopa County.
If you’re wondering where to drop off your ballot, then go to your county recorder’s website to find out.
In Maricopa County, the recorder’s office provides this list of ballot replacement and drop off locations. It also has a tool to find the closest vote centers open now or a vote anywhere Vote Center or polling location.
What is the difference between a bond, override or capital override?
All told, 23 school districts seek bonds to provide a certain amount of money for set projects.
Willcox Unified School District is seeking a $17 million bond to cover school maintenance and repairs that would be used to replace outdated fire alarm systems, aged boiler storage tanks and valves, doors and windows at elementary and middle schools and tile and carpet in many locations, repair failing sewer systems, existing well and irrigation systems, install security cameras, and finish fencing campus and other security measures and various roofing projects, according to an article in Willcox Range News.
“The bond is important for the school district, and you can tell from the uses that we have listed that there are some important things that need to be addressed in the school district as far as maintenance, safety and security, and technology,” said Kevin Davis, superintendent of the Cochise County school district that serves about 1,100 students to the Willcox Range News. “Also, the bond will be over a 20-year period. The money isn’t going to be spent all at once, and they would have a committee of community members that will help us decide what to spend the money on and how to spend the money to meet the community needs. It wouldn’t be just the school saying we need this; it would be a joint effort with community members.”
While 33 school districts ask for overrides to increase the school district’s maintenance and operations budget up to 15 percent.
Blue Ridge Unified School District, which serves 2,165 students in Navajo County, is seeking to continue its maintenance and operations override and noted that unfunded expenses such as special education, the minimum wage, health insurance, transportation and liability insurance increases as well as the cost of all-day kindergarten approach what the override currently provides, according to an article in the White Mountain Independent.
Peoria Unified School District is seeking a 15 percent budget override in the Nov. 5 election. The school district has a 13 percent override that has been in place for the past 23 years, and it pays for assistant principals, school nurses, physical education, full-day kindergarten and many extracurricular activities. The increase to 15 percent would generate an extra $5 million to help fund current and future safety initiatives, according to an ABC 15 Arizona story.
Overrides are a big source of revenue for districts that can pass one, said Dr. Anabel Aportela, director of research for Arizona Association of School Business Officials and Arizona School Boards Association during an August law conference in Phoenix.
“There are still a lot of districts that do not have an M&O override and so are severely limited in what they can offer for teacher compensation without those overrides,” Dr. Aportela said.
Just six school districts put capital overrides on the ballot to raise funds up to 10 percent of their revenue control limit.
Avondale Elementary School District is seeking a $1.9 million capital override renewal that would include $500,000 for security improvements, such as camera systems installed at all district schools, according to an Arizona Republic article.
Two districts are seeking approval to lease or sell school property.
Infographic by Angelica Miranda/AZEdNews
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Why are bonds and overrides an important funding source for school districts?
During the Great Recession, state legislators cut capital funding that schools use to maintain buildings, buses, textbooks and technology to balance the state budget, but that money was not restored when the economy recovered.
For example Flagstaff Unified received nearly $7 million in capital funding from the state in 2007, but only $600,000 in 2018.
In Arizona, local revenue makes up a significantly larger percent than state revenue of school districts overall funding.
That stands in stark contrast to the the rest of the nation where state funding is more than local funding, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Public Education Finances 2017 released in May 2019.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
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How do rural school districts do on bond and override ballot measures?
Bonds and maintenance and operations overrides tend to have much higher pass rates in Maricopa County than in other counties including rural areas, Dr. Aportela said her research has shown.
“In Maricopa County, you have about a 2/3 chance or passing an M&O override, but if you’re outside Maricopa County it’s about 50/50,” Dr. Aportela said her data shows.
“We see fewer school districts outside Maricopa County going out for a maintenance and operations override,” Dr. Aportela said. “You definitely have these pretty significant sources of revenue that are not equally available to all districts within the state.”
Thirteen rural school districts not eligible for small district budget exemptions have not sought a bond or override election since Fall 2003, Dr. Aportela said. Those include Elfrida Elementary, Pine Strawberry Elementary, Sonoita Elementary, Salome Consolidated Elementary, Wellton Elementary, Canon Elementary, Santa Cruz Elementary, Mammoth-San Manuel Unified, Bullhead City School District, Aguila Elementary, Solomon Elementary, Palominas Elementary and Naco Elementary, Dr. Aportela said.
Fourteen other rural school districts haven’t asked voters for more funding in the past 10 years, Dr. Aportela said. Those include Globe Unified, Heber-Overgaard Unified, Beaver Creek Elementary, Antelope Union High School District, Snowflake Unified, Sacaton Elementary, Mayer Unified, as well as ones that don’t need to go to voters to use Impact Aid such as Sanders Unified, Chinle Unified, Red Mesa Unified, Concho Elementary, McNary Elementary, Fort Thomas Unified, Cedar Unified, Ganado Unified, Pinon Unified, Baboquivari Unified, Whiteriver Unified and San Carlos Unified, Dr. Aportela said.
Four rural school districts that sought ballot measures once since Fall 2003 lost their elections and haven’t sought one since, Dr. Aportela said. Those were Colorado City Unified’s 2017 and Quartzite Elementary’s 2014 bond ballot measures and Globe Unified’s 2007 and Ajo Unified’s 2014 maintenance and operations overrides, but this year, Paloma School District has a bond measure on the ballot, Dr. Aportela said.