A special election to extended the 15% maintenance and operations override will be on the ballot Nov. 3 from the Dysart Unified School District.
Since 2000, DUSD , 15. North Parkview Place, has had a maintenance and operation override, and this year voters can decide on its proposed continuation with no tax increase for fiscal year 2021-22.
Ken Hicks, DUSD Assistant Superintendent for Business Services, said overrides increase the budget to allow for whatever variable the district indicates and then funds are distributed.
“That’s a 2.5% increase to all teachers salaries or that’s a 2.5% reduction to all salaries and it is equivalent to 127 teachers in class size reduction,” he explained. “We have class size standards, and if there’s a reduction we have to change those standards to accompany the reduction of 127 teachers.”
DUSD Superintendent Dr. Quinn Kellis said small class sizes equate to more teachers and bigger class sizes equate to fewer teachers. Adding when the district references smaller class sizes it means more teachers are hired to spread out the same number of students.
In addition to maintaining manageable class sizes, the 15% continuation provides for retainment of highly qualified teachers and staff, academic support programs for math and reading, arts, physical education and athletics programs and all day kindergarten.
“I did a study a couple years ago on what Arizona education is missing that other states have. You look at positions like reading and math interventionists, schools in the surrounding states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico have extra bodies on site because they have extra money to make hires. You don’t see those positions here in Arizona unless they are funded by federal grant money or an override. And they have those extra dollars so when you look at if this money were to go away, then we have to clear out those extra positions that support the basic teacher in a classroom,” Dr. Kellis said.
Any potential staff reductions if the override vote fails would happen in July 2021, by the next budget. Dr. Kellis said this year starts the phase down if the continuation does not pass. The upcoming school year would lose the first $7 million and then fiscal year 2022-23 would lose another $7 million, followed by an additional $7 million reduction for the third year.
“Every year we have to go through the budget and say we can’t take the teacher out of the classroom, so what else besides that? All the supports. We have to start looking around at other states and say we wish we had that program,” Dr. Kellis said.
Mr. Hicks said the 2.5% reductions go toward all teachers, which would also impact specials such as Spanish, art and music to name a few. Without full-day kindergarten, teachers would be reduced by 30 and Dysart officials would be forced to go back to the state requirement of half-day kindergarten.
“The challenge is if it doesn’t pass, we are cutting one-third,” he explained. Dr. Kellis said offering signature programs at each DUSD site is each individual campus identity. He added there are bigger plans for those areas that would help improve the learning experience so every student could have an extraordinary experience, but a loss would make it very difficult.
“The state funds every district the same, and what the district or charter does with that money is up to them. In order to make sure there is a teacher for every classroom and not a class of 40, other cuts have to be made,” Dr. Kellis said. “To protect teachers in the classroom I don’t see us ever getting to the point where there are too many kids for the number of teachers we have available. The class sizes could be unattractive and we could lose teachers who are not going to want to teach 38 kindergarten students, for example. We would never do that though.”
Dr. Kellis added it was only recently with all the efforts of district officials to make the experience DUSD people want rather than having people attend school in other districts. Adding it’s not just teachers who leave, it is students, too.
“And when students leave, the funding goes and cuts deeper into the budget. Several years ago, Desert Moon Elementary closed, so the impact is not just in one area. It will spread and the teachers are one component of that. We want the very best teachers for students no matter which school they go to,” Dr. Kellis said.
El Mirage Mayor and Dysart alumni Alexis Hermosillo contributed to the Vote Yes for Dysart Facebook campaign in support of the continuation saying Sept. 5.
“For the majority of El Mirage homeowners, this is a pennies-on-the-dollar investment in our children,” she said. “The continuation of the override allows DUSD to fund programs, teachers and services that our everyday working families need.”
Surprise Mayor Skip Hall provided support to the same Facebook page Aug. 31. “Schools play a key role in attracting investment and appealing to those who want to grow or relocate their businesses,” he said. “Businesses are not going to want to invest in an area that is laying off teachers, increasing class sizes and cutting programs. We need to invest in our school systems to preserve our quality of life. To do all this without raising our taxes is a win-win for all of us.”
Mr. Hicks said he has received community phone calls saying paying taxes to support a day care, referring to full-day kindergarten, is not something they agree on. But he says full-day kindergarten works and helps kids be successful down the road.
DUSD isn’t just relying on taxpayers to fund the school system. One shining example is The Vista at Valley Vista High School, 15550 N. Parkview Place, which has been serving only the school for 10 years.
“The auditorium was originally built as a community show house and now it is a dual benefit to the community and the district bringing it online for what it was intended to be,” Dr. Kellis said. “We wanted to bring professional shows here and that is at no cost to the district and allows us to bring in additional revenue and help improve facilities that otherwise we could be asking for more money to take care of. A lot of districts don’t offer a place like Growing Minds Preschool, and we are able to provide a service to the community and the revenues from that cover itself. There is no cost to the district, and taxpayer monies are not paying for community education so much as community education is providing additional assistance for the district. The more things that can be self-sustaining and not cost taxpayer dollars, those are the types of things we want at Dysart.”
Last year, DUSD reduced energy costs by $600,000 using controls and adjusting set points. Additionally, DUSD officials began the technique known as “super cooling” for rooms by using solar energy.
When solar is not available, the system powers down and the temperature slowly starts to rise. That use showed a 40% reduction in costs at one school.
The entire district is being outfitted with LED and implementing updated controls, which Mr. Hicks said could save about $1 million, which pays for the program’s cost.
“The second part is bonds, which create a great amount of flexibility and allows you to plan and schedule. Right now, without bond money and the Schools Facilities Board waiting on things like roofs to fail, our facilities director Bob Young works closely with the liaison, anticipating as much as possible to work on submitting for SFB funding,” Mr. Hicks said.
While DUSD’s $230 million dollar budget is funded by the taxpayers, the district aggressively pursues additional non-tax revenue to supplement funding as much as possible, according to Mr. Hicks.
“We continuously look at those areas where we can decrease cost and provide for the community. We cannot not live within our budget as it is illegal. We talk about what our carry-forward is with the board, and we are accountable, transparent and responsible to everyone,” he explained.
He added, people mistake waste with disagreeing with the way the money is spent Dr. Kellis said the district called for an election.
“We are not telling people how to vote, but simply why it is important to Dysart. We represent the children of our community, and the quality of the community is directly tied to the experience kids have,” he said. “If we provide partnerships like Growing Minds Preschool and The Vista to improve the community, that is as much our charge as math and reading. We are the core of every neighborhood.”
For information on the override continuation, visit dysart.org.
Editor’s Note: Jennifer Jimenez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SCW_Independent.