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Sat, Dec. 14

School district keeps fingers<br>crossed for override approval

GC VILLAGE — With another big eighth grade class coming up and a small senior class graduating this May, it appears to be a given that Grand Canyon High School will be over the small-schools enrollment cap of 100 when classes begin this fall.

Student Shaun Cochran gets into his locker in a high-school hallway. Failure of the March 12 override vote could bring drastic changes to the school.

The local school actually went over the 100-student mark already this year based on the 40-day count. With enrollment at 108 students, the school board approved a call for an override election, which will be staged March 12.

Grand Canyon School superintendent Ray Vernon stopped short of saying the high school would close down if the override does not pass. But it is a serious issue for the district.

"Based on the type of people we have in the community, I have to be optimistic," Vernon said. "The district appreciates the efforts of voters … and several entities and businesses. We ask for an increased burden to them again. It’s greatly appreciated, so we can operate."

There are actually few property owners in the district with those taxpayers getting hit with the brunt of an increase.

In the community, there seems to be little or no opposition to the override. A group of Tusayan residents joined forces with the school district over the past few years to get new small-schools legislation passed.

In voting information literature put out by Coconino County, Vernon along with Tusayan resident and parent Pete Shearer wrote in support of its passage while nobody wrote in opposition.

With a successful vote, the measure will allow the school district to override the state’s revenue control limit, which would adjust taxes upward. The call for the override election was based on the 40-day count, but the budget for next year will be based on the school’s 100-day count, which will not occur until after March 12.

"If we go under 100 next year, we’ll be in a favorable position where we can stay in the small-school window," Vernon said. "However, we have a small senior class and a big eighth grade. If we’re still fortunate enough to be below 100, we’ll apply it the following year."

With the approval of voters, the override could be invoked over the next five years. The override calculations would be adjusted each year based on the number of students.

As of last week, the school had lost some enrollment since the 40-day count and was down to 102 students. The graduating class this year includes only 11 students while the eighth-graders moving up involves 36 students. Based on those current numbers, enrollment on the first day this fall could be 127.

Vernon said the loss of small-schools funds for going over the limit would mean a $478,000 impact to the high-school budget. Approval of the override would bring back $276,000, based on the new formula. When the school’s enrollment falls between 100 and 175 students, another $50,000 adjustment is performed.

In addition, with increased enrollment, Vernon said there would be a base reimbursement of around $90,000. All of those figures add up to the school district still falling about $50,000 short on meeting its budget.

Vernon said that shortfall along with salary raises and cost-of-living increases, the district’s red ink becomes even brighter. That’s why school officials see the override as a must for the district.

"The big reason for passing it is for small schools to maintain a full program that can be accredited and provide students with an education they need to pursue a post-school career," Vernon said. "We take a lot of pride in the kind of high school we have in regards to our size."

Vernon said that this academic year alone, the high school has added three new programs — anthropology, drama and journalism. "We want to maintain that high quality for students," he added.

For those unable to vote on March 12, early voting is currently under way. Early voting will end March 7. It is available Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at the school district office.

Any eligible voter can vote early and there are no restrictions. To request an early ballot, individuals can call, fax (928-779-6739) or mail a request to the Coconino County Elections Office, 110 E. Cherry Ave., Flagstaff, AZ 86001. To vote in person, go to the Grand Canyon School District office or call 638-2461.

Voters are eligible if they were registered on or before Feb. 11, 2002. For those who have moved, changed their name or party affiliation since last registering, going through the registration process again will be necessary. Call the elections office at 928-779-6589 or 1-800-793-6161 to request a form to be mailed out.

Vernon said there will be push in the few weeks prior to the election to get information out about the override and its importance.

Besides scheduling appearances with service clubs and other groups, there will be an open house on March 5 at 7 p.m. in the school’s multi-purpose room. School officials urge locals to attend to learn about the override issue.

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