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New Students

Students and parents at Sechrist Elementary school on the first day of the new school year in this August 2015 file photo.

Flagstaff Unified School District is estimating a $2 million increase in its operating budget for the 2017/2018 school year to $68 million. The FUSD board will approve the budget at its June 27 meeting.

The increase in expenses this year includes a 1.06 percent increase in pay for all teachers in the district, an increase in the local minimum wage from $10 to $10.50 an hour for all employees who qualify and at least $600,000 for repairs and maintenance on district buildings.

The district also expects to get a 1.31 percent revenue increase from Proposition 301. Proposition 301 was approved by voters in 2000. It increased the state’s sales tax rate by 0.6 percentage points for 20 years. However, that revenue source is limited to a 2 percent increase each year or the increase in inflation for the year, whichever is lower.

About 85 percent of the budget expenses goes toward payroll and benefits for district teachers and staff, said FUSD Director of Finance Scott Walmer.

In 2016, the district used the nearly $2 million from the passage of Proposition 123 to increase salaries across the board. The district's average teacher salary increased from about $42,000 to nearly $43,500 and entry level teacher salaries went from $34,000 to about $34,700. The funds from Prop 123 are expected to stay the same this year for FUSD, Walmer said.

A 1.06 percent increase in pay for teachers would mean that an average teacher’s salary would increase to about $43,961 and an entry level teacher would now make about $35,067. That increase would come on top of any pay raises that would be approved by the FUSD board.

The money for 1.06 percent teacher pay raise will come from the state, Walmer said. But the funding for that pay raise is only guaranteed for the 2017/2018 school year. The bill passing the pay raise includes a remark from the Arizona Legislature that its intent is to reauthorize the raise in the 2018/2019 budget, an election year.

However, the district can’t really be sure how much of an increase or decrease its budget will have because of a new funding formula that was approved by the state, Walmer said.

Previously, districts calculated their budget and tax rates based on the prior year’s enrollment figures, he said. The state then sent districts funding on a monthly basis based on that budget.

The new formula is supposed to save the state money by paying for students on a rolling basis. It requires districts to report on a monthly basis the number of students enrolled in the district during the current budget year, Walmer said. The state then apportions education funds from the state budget based on these enrollment figures to the districts on a monthly basis.

This makes it difficult to create a budget for the new school year because the district doesn’t know exactly how many students it will have in those first few months and enrollment can vary from month to month, he said. It also means that districts have to set their local tax rates before they know how many students they may have.

The district’s budget is really dependent on what the Arizona Legislature does with the state budget, Walmer said. In Arizona, school districts receive funding from the state budget first. That funding is based on enrollment -- each school is allotted so much per student.

Districts have to make up the difference by using property taxes and overrides. The state helps keep property taxes down for homeowners with a property tax credit of up to $600 on a homeowners’ primary residence.

FUSD is estimating a 6 cent increase in property taxes for district taxpayers, Walmer said. However, most residents will actually see their property tax bill go down because of the tax credit. In 2017, every $100,000 of assessed residential value had a tax bill from the district of $367.73. Walmer is estimating that the net 2018 tax bill for the same amount will be about $366.41.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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