Originally Published: October 2, 2015 6 a.m.
As an educator for 23 years and a principal in Prescott Unified School District, I have taken the opportunity on my personal time to talk with a number of people about PUSD's upcoming bond and override election. While I find many people have familiarized themselves with facts, I have also encountered a number of people who lack information about these important measures. Since ballots for this all-mail-in election will be mailed out the week of Oct. 12, I would like to dispel some common myths about the PUSD bond and override measures.
Myth 1: The bond and override will increase our taxes.
Fact: Property taxes related to PUSD will NOT increase as a result of the bond and override being approved by voters. The combined cost for both of these measures will be less than $3 monthly for most of us! For owners of an average Prescott home, this will be $34.07 annually - the cost of two pizzas. This is exactly what we are paying now toward a previous PUSD bond that is sunsetting this year. The amount you pay to support your local schools will stay the same.
Myth 2: PUSD wastes money they receive from taxpayers.
Fact: PUSD's entire budget and every one of its expenditures is fully transparent, vetted and audited regularly. Anyone with this concern is invited to sit down with the district's finance folks in one of their frequent "School Budget 101" explanations. The fact is that no other similar-sized organization is expected to do so much with so little funding and such strict regulatory oversight.
Myth 3: Even if we vote for the bond and override, the money won't go where they say it will.
Fact: All PUSD expenditures are publicly vetted and approved by elected officials, and carefully reviewed by independent auditors. PUSD will voluntarily create an oversight committee that will review and audit all bond and override expenditures to be sure they are used exactly as stated, and as required by law.
Myth 4: Since some families send their children to charter schools, it must mean that PUSD schools are failing.
Fact: By every available measure - state test scores, AP test results, scholarship money earned, graduation rates, alumni college and career success, etc. - PUSD remains one of the highest-performing districts in the state. This is precisely why for-profit charter school/businesses come to Prescott. They don't target struggling students. Charter schools are a good choice for some families. However, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of parents in Prescott choose PUSD schools for excellent academics, plus a variety of extra-curricular activities not found at any charter school.
Myth 5: The legal term "budget override" must indicate that PUSD doesn't live within its budget, and is asking for things that will waste our money.
Fact: Local districts are expected to ask their voters to supplement the inadequate funding the state provides. Eighty percent of Arizona's students currently attend a district being supported locally by a bond and/or override. Charter schools are automatically provided an additional $700-plus per student annually from the state to account for having no ability to ask for additional local "budget override" funding. District schools must ask our voters do to what the Legislature does automatically for these for-profit school/businesses.
Myth 6: PUSD administrators and support staff are overpaid.
Fact: PUSD is below both state and national averages for administrative costs, which is not surprising since PUSD administrators make about 25 percent less than their counterparts nationwide. Similarly, PUSD secretaries, IT staff, and maintenance staff love working with kids, but these good folks leave PUSD all the time for substantially higher pay with the county, the city, Yavapai College, or YRMC. Constantly hiring and training new folks costs taxpayers money. The override is a wise investment in keeping quality personnel.
Myth 7: PUSD's financial problems stem solely from a loss of students.
Fact: Prescott's shrinking population of young families and the expansion of for-profit charters has decreased the number of students in PUSD in the past few years. However, the district has responded by restructuring, closing two schools and eliminating dozens of teacher/administrator/staff positions. The major factor in PUSD's budget crunch is the Legislature's slashing of state education funding over the past decade. Our state has cut per-student funding 17.5 percent since 2008. Arizona ranks at the bottom of the nation in investing in our future - our students.
Myth 8: If we vote no locally and just wait, the state Legislature will be compelled to adequately fund our schools at the state level.
Fact: It is clear that our Arizona Legislature is not going to step up to properly fund our schools. In spite of Arizona lawmakers' constitutional mandate to "make such appropriations, to be met by taxation, as shall insure the proper maintenance of all state educational institutions," our local representatives are on record reporting to us that we can't count on the Legislature to adequately fund school maintenance or teacher pay any time soon.
It's time for Prescott to do what 80 percent of Arizona communities do - step up with very moderate, additional local financial support for our local schools. PUSD taxes will NOT increase, and ALL of this funding will stay in Prescott. The future of a core part of our community is in our hands. I urge all voters to support our students and staff by voting YES on the PUSD bond and override measures.
Clark Tenney is principal of Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott.