School districts are asking voters to approve nearly $1 billion in local funding

Across Arizona, 39 Arizona school districts are asking local voters to approve bonds and overrides today.

The funds, totaling nearly $1 billion, generate additional tax revenue for school districts to pay for projects ranging from new campuses to teacher salaries.

Arizona’s school districts are funded by a mix of federal, state and local funding. State law allows school districts to ask local voters to increase taxes to pay for specific projects and programs.

Bonds: If approved by voters, school districts can sell bonds to fund school capital projects. Money raised for bonds typically funds construction for new buildings, technology enhancements, new buses and other building upgrades. From the Grand Canyon to Eloy, 12 school districts are asking voters to approve over $740 million in bond sales, according to numbers crunched by the Arizona Tax Research Association (ATRA).

Overrides: There are two types of overrides, Maintenance and Operations overrides and District Additional Assistance overrides.

  • Maintenance and Operations overrides: If approved by voters, a school district can increase its maintenance and operations budget by up to 15 percent for seven years. Funds are typically used to fund teacher salaries, student programs and general operating dollars. From Holbrook to Sahuarita, 24 school districts are asking for voter approval of over $145 million in funding, according to ATRA.
  • District Additional Assistance overrides: This source of additional capital funding if approved by voters is typically used by districts for larger purchases such as computers, textbooks, furniture and other equipment. From Laveen to Yuma, seven school districts are asking for voter approval of over $23 million in funding, according to ATRA.

Depending on the property values within the district, the impact on taxpayers can vary widely, said Sean McCarthy, Senior Research Analyst with the Arizona Tax Research Association.

If a district has high property values, they are able to take on a higher level of debt, which creates “an unfair arms race,” he said.

Arizona School Boards Association Director of Government Affairs Chris Kotterman said that many districts are using bond funds for building maintenance and modernization and override funds for “basic costs” such as full-day kindergarten and additional reading instruction.

“The School Facilities Board was created to eliminate the need for bond funding, but a school has to be overcrowded before a district is able to build a new school,” he said. “School districts are competing. They are competing with each other, they are competing with charters. They need to have facilities that allow them to be competitive.”

McCarthy agrees that bonds should be used to fund specific projects, but he said some districts are selling bonds to “keep the tax rate level” rather than tying the debt to student need.

“That’s not the way taxpayers go into debt,” said McCarthy. “They go in with both eyes open.”

Below is the full list on bonds and overrides compiled by Chamber Business News.

Megan Gilbertson

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