When it comes to more school budget overrides and bonds in the Flagstaff region, it's likely a matter of when, not if.
That's the takeaway from Tuesday night's meeting of the governing board of the Flagstaff Unified School District.
Board members and administrators discussed two ballot measures, at least one of which would appear this November: a building improvements bond of up to $15 million and a soft capital override of up to $2.9 million a year for equipment and textbooks.
The "when" could come from one of a few configurations, which FUSD budget and finance chief Ken Garland submitted to the school board for discussion:
-- Option 1: Hold both the override and bond elections this November.
-- Option 2: Hold only the bond election this November and the override election in November 2013.
-- Option 3: Hold only the override election this November and the bond election in November 2013.
Garland showed a preference for the first option, although he acknowledged that it could be a harder sell.
"I got a little shaky about that, thinking, this is a tough election year," he said.
That's because it's a busy ballot, not just for the presidential and congressional offices but for education funding. Supporters of the temporary 1-cent sales tax passed by voters in May 2010 have announced interest in renewing the statewide tax, which is set to expire next year. With more competition for education taxes, local voters could split their approval -- and not in FUSD's favor.
Garland said that, in general, a presidential election year is better for turnout, but that could also draw out voters who are less educated on the school initiatives. "Odd" years are more favorable for the schools because the people who aren't interested in school funding don't come to the polls, and those that are interested are more likely to come out and vote yes.
The drop-dead date to commit to an election is several months off. But for district administrators, it's already a good time to start the behind-the-scenes work of preparing information for voter pamphlets and meeting with bond consultants.
PROS AND CONS
Garland listed pros and cons for all of the possibilities. (The levy would vary as the tax rate depends on the year.)
-- If both elections pass under option 1, this eliminates a 2013 ballot appearance and allows the support group to prepare for the 2014 election cycle, when FUSD would ask voters to renew the general budget override last approved in 2010. However, the ballot is also full with a variety of initiatives and offices, including three seats on FUSD's board, and capital overrides are historically the most difficult to pass. (This election would be a renewal of a capital override last approved in 2006.)
Here, the capital override would be $2.9 million a year for seven years, and the bonds would be $11 million.
-- In splitting up the ballot questions under option 2, this puts the override in a more favorable year for any school election, especially the less popular capital override. This also lets the district see what capital funds the state restores in summer 2012 and 2013.
Here, the capital override would be $2.8 million a year for seven years, and the bonds would be $15 million. The bonds would be sold in $7.5 million halves about a year and a half apart.
-- Option 3, the inverse of option 2, has the advantage of testing public support. If it's not strong for the override, the district would need to do a bigger bond in 2013.
Here, the capital override would be $2.6 million a year for seven years, and the bond would be $15 million.
Board member Chris Bavasi wanted outcomes made clear to voters based on either result: If the district doesn't get the money it asks for, what exactly are the consequences? And if it does, what are the benefits?
The board hasn't voted in any way on the proposed elections, but Garland's diagnosis strongly endorses both levies. Not having these additional tax dollars means moving money for capital improvements out of the general fund, he said.
"The need to maintain district facility investments at a reasonable level and to provide the necessary instructional aids/technology for students is far beyond what is feasible from state budget authorizations or what can be asked for from voters," he wrote in a memo. "The proposal to ask the voters for a $15,000,000 bond issue is a plan to carry the district through a 5-year difficult state funding period that is adversely affecting maintenance of buildings... The capital outlay override is a renewal of existing funding and would add only a small amount of taxes over what exists with the present override."
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556-2261.