Recent budget override forum attendance slight

A public hearing on the upcoming school budget override election, set for March 12, was held Wednesday for a crowd of 13. Most of the audience were override committee members.

“We are in the third year of a five-year override,” said Jac Heiss, superintendent of Williams schools. “Basically, if we don’t renew the override, we’ll lose one-third of the amount — that’s about $110,000.

“If this thing passes, it will not increase the (current) tax.”

In March of 1999, voters approved a tax levy on their secondary property taxes to fund the override, which helps maintain services such as the school nurse, the music program, athletics and vocational programs.

Now, the school district wants to extend the override by three years to continue to provide students with the programs they are accustomed to.

“Back in ’99, when we passed the override, we said we’d maintain these programs: districtwide athletics, school music program, school art program, instructional supplies and materials, school nurse, K-8 physical education programs and instructional technology improvements,” Heiss said. “Those happened to be non-mandated programs that were on the chopping block.”

The school district did maintain the programs and also added a full-time art teacher, implemented a Spanish program at WEMS, purchased new and used band equipment, hired a full time counselor, hired an assistant principal for WEMS and purchased new equipment for both schools.

“We would like to go ahead and continue these programs,” said Heiss. “These are designated programs that we could cut if we wanted to.”

This coming school year, the school district is hoping to start a new program aimed at younger kids.

“One thing we’re striving to achieve is to implement a full-time kindergarten program,” Heiss said. “It’s our intention to do this if we decide to go to a four-day week or not.

“It can do the most to help them (students) later on.”

One or two additional teachers will have to be hired for the program. Heiss said the biggest problem is providing space.

Once the four-day school week was brought up, audience members said they were worried about people voting the override down because they were mad about the proposed calendar change.

“I’m really concerned,” said Kali Kaliche, 10-year volunteer for the school district.

Heiss said the override election has nothing to do with the board’s decision whether to change to a four-day school week/extended calendar schedule or not, which will probably be decided at the March 13 school board meeting.

In 1999, low enrollment caused a deficit in the budget, which was alleviated by override funding. Budget overrides are designed to wean school districts from additional funding by gradually decreasing. After three year, override funds go down by 1/3 and continue to decrease by that amount the next two years, until the funds are eliminated.

With voter approval, the district can keep the override at its full funding level another three years.

For property owners, the override tax is $0.48 per $100 of assessed valuation, which is added to the secondary tax rate making it $0.98. The primary tax rate is $3.69. With the passage of the extended override, the total projected tax rate will be $4.66. Without passing, the rate will drop to $4.50 this year, $4.34 next year and to $4.18 in fiscal year 2004-05.

During the meeting, Heiss compared Williams tax rate to surrounding communities.

“The only school district that has a lower tax rate is Page,” he said. “The total tax rate implemented in 1999 to support the override and regular budget was $5.14. For the current year, it was $4.66 or $0.48 less that the original rate.”

Flagstaff School District combined tax rate is $6.67 and Grand Canyon pays $6.28. He said because property values have increased, the tax has gone down. He added that in 2008 the tax rate will drop by $0.50 when the bond, which paid for the football stadium and various other items, is completed.

There are a number of funding impact issues that also need to be thrown into the picture. Heiss said, insurance costs are the biggest hit, but reductions in revenues for Proposition 301 and soft capital funding, which can be used for everything from textbooks to buses, will also hurt the school district.

In 1999, single monthly insurance coverage for employees cost the district $205 and the employee paid nothing. Now the cost is $305 and the employee’s share is $55.60. Family coverage in 1999 was $561 a month and the employee paid $131. Now, family coverage is $821 and it costs the employee $370.52 a month.

“What they did to the family coverage is brutal,” Heiss said. “You can see the damage it did.”

Losing 25 percent of soft capital funding, approximately $45,000-50,000, and the approximately $30,000-40,000 reduction in 301 money has also caused the district concern, Heiss said.

“That’s a significant cut,” he said. “We’re being told by our insurance company that our medical insurance premiums are going up 15-20 percent.”

Anyone who has questions on the override is invited to attend the next public hearing, set for 6:30 p.m. March 6 in the auditorium of the WEMS, 601 N. Seventh St.

Information on the override and the four-day/extended school calendar is available on the school district’s website — www.wusd2.org.

There are two polling places for the March 12 election — Grand Canyon Valle Airport, at the intersection of US 180 and State Route 64, and First Baptist Church, 629 W. Grant Ave. Both poles will be open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone living within the Williams Unified School District can vote on extending the override.

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