Sun, March 29

What's another five years?<br>Cottonwood district will ask voters to continue override

Staff photo by Paula Blankenship

Full-day kindergarten is just one of the programs funded by a Cottonwood-Oak Creek override that will be up for continuation by district voters in March. According to Cottonwood Elementary School Principal Barbara U'Ren, the full day program provides enough time for teachers and students to engage in meaningful enrichment activities as well as academic and skill oriented programs.

But according to the Goldwater Institute, taxpayer support for public schools in the form of state appropriations and local property taxes has grown 59 percent in the past 10 years.

For Verde Village homeowner Mary Zampelli, it means over 40 percent of her $1,000 property tax bill supports K-12 education.

"It's a little too much for my budget," she explains.

Students within the Cottonwood-Oak Creek District have benefited from a property tax levy for 10 years. And since 1985, voters have passed three overrides for Mingus Union High School.

On Monday, the school board of the C-OCS District agreed to ask voters living within district boundaries to continue an override that pays for a variety of programs many deem essential for students. Mingus board members will undoubtedly discuss bringing the override to property owners in three years.

In the C-OCS District, full-day kindergarten, will receive the bulk of funds generated from the five-year, $405,000 property tax levy. It's a program that works, say educators.

“Children who have not had the equal opportunities for experiences that prepare them for formal schooling," explains Cottonwood Elementary School Principal Barbara U’Ren, "benefit from being in a full-day program where language development and readiness skills are emphasized."

For approximately 27 cents per $100 of assessed value, elementary district students also receive music and physical education programs as well as opportunities for gifted education.

That’s 8 cents less, says Tavasci, than 10 years ago when the override was initially approved. “The more taxpayers there are,” he explained noting the Verde Valley's growth, “the smaller the debt is to each taxpayer.”

The Goldwater Institute reports that in fiscal year 1997-98, of the $4.4 billion spent on K-12 education, 41 percent was levied through local property taxes. In 1999, 58 percent of the $3.6 billion in local property taxes across the state was levied by local school districts. Out of the State General Fund in fiscal year 2000, 45 percent was appropriated to support K-12 education.

"There are many ways to assess the level of importance a society places on a government program," reports the Institute. "Clearly, one way is to look at how much money citizens invest in that area compared to all the other areas to which it could dedicate funds."

Currently property owners within the elementary district are paying about $56 dollars a year or 56 cents per $100 of assessed value for K-12 education within their boundaries. The two separate property tax levies benefit both the C-OCSD and Mingus Union High School District overrides.

In 2004, voters may see another override approval on the ballot, this time for Mingus Union High School.

But because overrides have a life span of five years, some school administrators like Mingus Superintendent Tom McCraley express concern over the impact of such voter-approved measures. He worries about providing consistent salaries and programs.

“I’m not opposed to salary increases,” said McCraley. “It’s just with overrides its like living with the guillotine over my neck for five years.”

Zampelli lives with a different kind of stress.

"I have to live within my checkbook," she said when complaining to the County Assessor's Office this week after learning of the C-OCSD's plan to put the override on the ballot for March. "I just can't go and get into someone else's pocketbook."

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