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Override needed at J.O. Combs school district

As superintendent of the J.O. Combs Uni­fied School District I especially wanted to commend you for bringing attention to our request for voter approval to raise the bare­bones minimum spending levels established for our district under state law (“East Valley school districts push for budget overrides,” June 20, 2012).

As responsible stewards of the funds we receive from taxpayers, we honor and re­spect requirements that we use public funds wisely, prudently and responsibly. Thus we are committed to ensuring that we use ev­ery public dollar properly. Our schools rep­resent a wise investment that pays dividends in many ways.

First, it is essential to our community’s fu­ture to prepare the next generation to com­pete in world, national and statewide econo­mies. If we don’t prepare our children, they will lose ground, and our local economy will pay a long-term price.

Second, the quality of local schools is one of the primary factors in sustaining property values. Even if you don’t have children in school, any real estate agent will tell you that local school rankings are one of the most important factors in determining the value of your home, your business, and any other local property you may own.

Third, we all must cope with economic realities, including the fact that state sup­port for education has shrunk as our Leg­islature deals with its own budget issues. If we want quality schools, we must invest our tax dollars locally. With all that in mind, I’d like to clarify what this means for chil­dren, citizens and taxpayers who live within the boundaries of our school district: The J.O. Combs Governing Board voted unanimously, seeking permission to ex­ceed minimum state spending levels on our Maintenance and Operations budget by 10 percent in the election scheduled for November 6, 2012. This money is used for classroom supplies, academic programs and teacher salaries.

We are in good company. The Legisla­ture specifically granted local voters the right to invest in their own schools, and most districts are doing so. In fact, between 70 percent and 80 percent of Arizona’s stu­dents live in districts where an override is in place.

If approved by voters, the authority to override state bare-bones minimums may remain in place for seven years. However in the sixth year the budget cap is reduced by one-third, and in the seventh year it drops by two-thirds if the override is not renewed. In other words we will have to demonstrate to voters that their hard-earned money is being used wisely. If we don’t, we lose that additional spending authority.

J.O. Combs received voter approval for a 10 percent override in 2007. Without the renewal in November 2011, under state law the district had to reduce its budget by $692,480 for 2012-13. This forced us to take several painful steps: We had to implement staff cuts that in­cluded all levels. The impact fell on secu­rity, custodians, elementary school deans, district office staff, counselors and elective teachers. Competitive Middle School Sports had to be eliminated, replaced with intramural sports.

Elective classes at the secondary level and general music classes at the elemen­tary level had to be reduced.

If voters fail to approve the override at the November 6 election we will have to cut an additional $1.4 million. To accom­modate these cuts we will have to increase class sizes and eliminate extra-curricular and elective programs.

If voters do grant us authority to override minimum spending levels we can avoid these cuts, but it will not lead to higher property taxes. By keeping the 2007 author­ity in place voters will continue paying an additional levy that averages about $14 a month.

We respect the taxpayers who fund our schools, and we are committed to provide them with full and accurate information. Once voters understand the issues, we are confident that they will see their local schools as a wise investment that deserves their ongoing support.

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