MESA, AZ — Nearly 80 percent of people living in Maricopa County will vote on a school district bond or override in the November 5 special election, and there is a lot at stake for the largest school district in Arizona.
It may look and sound like a professional body shop but students do all the work as part of the automotive program at Mesa's Skyline High School.
Giving kids the tools they need to succeed through career and workforce prep is just one area funded by the district's maintenance and operations override. The district is now facing $37 million in cuts over three years, if voters don't pass the 15% "budget increase" on the ballot, which also supports teacher salaries and retention, school safety and security.
"With our budget being 80 percent to 88 percent of people, it's going to affect people. How it's going to affect people, we haven't gotten down to the details on but it's going to affect classroom size, it's going to affect what we can pay people," said Scott Thompson, the assistant superintendent of business and support services for Mesa Public Schools.
The district has had a 10 percent override in place since 1995 but that funding is set to phase out over the next two years. Thompson says the jump to 15 percent would result in a property tax increase of just more than $5 a month on a $100,000 home. Last year voters rejected the increase.
"I understand it seems overwhelming, you've got $400 million there's got to be money there to pay teachers," said Thompson. "I've also got to pay the electric, I've got to pay a lot of fixed costs, I have 80-plus schools to take care of."
"Absolutely support education but support education by understanding what they're doing with your tax dollars," said Ben Smith.
Smith was on the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board from 2014-2018 and served as president in 2018, but lost his bid for re-election.
"'You didn't get on the board so now you're angry at the district,' that is absolutely not the case," said Smith.
Smith says the override is an unfair burden to taxpayers, fueled by unnecessary spending on high school CTE (Care and Technical Education) programs and district waste.
"Rather than paying to support the core curriculum and core classes, they need to go out for stuff like this override to pay for teachers to teach automotive instead of just sending them off to EVIT," Smith said.
This year the district found $8 million in savings to put a full-time counselor in all of its elementary schools but it may have to pump the brakes on that progress pending what happens in November.
"We're doing the best we can with the money," said Thompson.
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