State formula squeezes Dysart budget again

By Jennifer Jimenez
Independent Newsmedia

The Dysart Unified School District Governing Board approved the revised 2016-17 expenditure budget during the May 10 board meeting, with the Maintenance & Operation Budget Limit decreasing by approximately $1.3 million for for a total adjusted budget limit of $152.3 million for the next school year.

The unrestricted Capital Budget limit was increased by approximately $1 million.

“Our state once again reduced our funding for our district additional assistance and so as we talked about before, the formula they use for capital gives us only 13 percent to use and the rest we need to find from some other place in our budget,” Executive Director of Business Affairs Jack Eaton said.

District Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick said another complication with the voucher program expansion Gov. Doug Ducey recently approved is that the district won’t know how it will impact them and how many people will use the program.

“Charter and private schools can also be approved overnight to build and we don’t know how those will impact us as we move to current year funding,” Dr. Pletnick said. “Halfway through our school year we will know what our budget will be and I know of no other businesses that operate this way.”

Dysart Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Gail Pletnick speaks with a student. [File photo]
Mr. Eaton said the district does have a real possibility of larger capacity for students and that could affect enrollment. He said at last check 732 students were added to the district, while there were 500 exits.

“A key number to remember is 100 because after the 100th day if any students enroll, we will not receive any funding for them, unless they come back next year,” Mr. Eaton said. “So it’s up to us to find money somewhere else in our budget to meet our capital needs.”

Gov. Ducey said the $9.8 billion budget invests in Arizona schools and teachers. In a statement released to Independent Newsmedia, the governor said the education budget passed by the legislature is a historic win for public schools, including $80 million for construction and maintenance of school facilities and over $68 million for permanent teacher pay raises.

“These are lasting investments in our K-12 system and come on top of millions in new funding from the approval of Prop. 123 last year. We will continue to work with education stakeholders to build on these gains and prioritize education funding,” the statement read.

District Communications and Public Relations Director Zach Fountain said capital budget spending is limited under current year funding in the same manner that is has been under prior year funding.

“We can only spend resources that are made available to us through state appropriation or locally voted funding (bonds, overrides) authorization. state-funded District Additional Assistance (DAA) has been reduced (not funded) by $2.4 billion since 2009. ($1,1 billion since 2016),” Mr. Fountain said. “These are funds that are included in the statutory state education funding formula that the Governor and Legislature have chosen not to provide. For Dysart, the formula, if fully funded would provide $12 million per year. With the legislative hold back, we receive $1.5 million annually.”

He said the district is fortunate that the majority of buildings are new or have been remodeled within the last 14 years. But DUSD beginning to see roof, HVAC and grounds maintenance that require significant money to keep up.

“Our buildings represent a community resource and state investment and we feel the responsibility to adequately maintain them which requires capital funding. We also have an aging bus fleet with the majority of the buses with more than 200,000 miles,” Mr. Fountain said.

He said the need for capital dollars is just not limited to buses and buildings. One major expense is the software licenses that support operations and curriculum.

Another thing is growth within the district. As it gets bigger, the need for additional schools rises.

“The state previously funded the construction of new facilities once the students enrolled. Now, that funding source is very limited, requiring local districts to ask local voters to authorize bonds in order to obtain funding for new schools. It takes a majority vote by the residents of the district to authorize bonds and overrides,” Mr. Fountain said.

The renewal of the override was successful on the district’s second attempt, but Mr. Fountain said additional taxes for bonds will be a difficult choice for the surrounding community. Without more money from the state or local support through bonds passed by voters, the district will have to use maintenance and operations funds to maintain buildings and provide curriculum needs.

A lawsuit against the state, claims it has not adequately funded public schools’ capital needs as mandated under a 1998 court ruling. Arizona School Boards Association, Arizona Education Association, Arizona School Administrators, Arizona Administrators School Business Officials, Elfrida Elementary School District, Chino Valley Unified School District, Crane Elementary School District, Glendale Elementary School District,

Peoria resident Kathy Knecht and Laveen resident Jill Barragan are all listed as plaintiffs.

The district is not a direct plaintiff in the current lawsuit that was filed. But Mr. Fountain said they will benefit if the courts agree the state is not fulfilling the voter mandates which previously directed the state to provide for an adequate uniform funding for both operations and capital requirements.

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