With salaries up, schools eye funding for facilities

Like many school districts in Arizona the three public school districts that serve Gilbert are in an improved situation this school year; however, work remains to be done to restore their financial health, district officials said.

State officials last spring committed to a three-year teacher salary increase program; an extension of Proposition 301 taxation, which is a 0.6-percent sales-tax increase dedicated to funding education; and the restoration of some District Additional Assistance, or DAA, funds, which are used for district capital costs—physical items like buildings and buses.

The biggest wishlist item for the 2019 legislative session is to continue restoring DAA funds, officials from Gilbert Public Schools, Chandler USD and Higley USD said.

Despite the restoration of some DAA funds earlier this year, those funds are about a third of what the state’s funding formula says the districts should receive, according to the state’s funding reports for each district.

“You have a group of people, educators, who are fighting, who are believing they’re really doing what they feel is best for their profession,” Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Shane McCord said. “And then you have another group of legislators who were making those decisions for education. They’re going to have to listen (to each other).”

With DAA funds still lagging, officials from all three districts said they may be forced to put bond elections and overrides before voters.

Funding restoration impact

The lack of school funding dates to the Great Recession in 2007-09, which caused a crash in state revenues and home values. School districts suffered on two fronts – from a decrease in state funding and a decrease in property tax collection.

By fiscal year 2015-16, DAA was being funded at fewer than 15 percent of what the state’s formula showed the state owed to districts, according to data from the Arizona Association of School Business Officials.

“Trying to run a school district on 15 percent of the required capital costs from the state is very difficult,” HUSD Superintendent Mike Thomason said. “Things that fall through the cracks are things that are very visual: carpet, paint, new furniture for our students, curriculum.”

Even in a district such as GPS, where building new schools is largely over, lack of capital funding made dealing with routine maintenance problematic and caused districts to pull from the maintenance and operations fund, McCord said.

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