Thu, April 02

C-OC District to go for override bump<br><i>Programs will be lost without supplemental increase</i>

Without more money, elementary schools in Cottonwood and Cornville could lose their full-day kindergarten programs and teachers for music and physical education.

The middle school could lose its athletic programs. Also lost or reduced, could be nursing and counseling services.

To avoid such steps, the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board will ask voters to reauthorize the existing budget override with a 5-percent increase.

Because school district budgets in Arizona are limited by law, budget overrides for supplemental funding are allowed, but they must be approved by voters. Override funding is paid for by property owners in the school district through the secondary tax rate. Overrides are fully funded for five years, with reduced funding during the sixth and seventh years.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek voters passed a 5-percent override in 1997, and voters reauthorized it in 2002. If the current override provided enough supplemental money for the district, it would not need to be renewed until 2007. But the district needs more funding to maintain some non-mandated programs.

Superintendent Julie Larson said the district is asking voters to reauthorize the existing override early with a 5-percent increase. If approved, the new override would begin July 2005 and last, at full funding, until 2010. It would add about $25 to the tax bill of a home with an assessed value of $100,000, according to Larson.

"Since 2002, district costs are up," Larson said. "We have no way to make more money. Our budget is based upon the number of students."

"We built a new school and did not impact the local taxpayer," Larson said. "There were no bonds, but we had to staff the new school."

Staffing the new Tavasci Elementary School is only part of the increasing costs that are combining to put the squeeze on the district.

Larson said the Arizona State Retirement System has raised the required contributions of employees by 2 1/2 percent, requiring the district to make a matching contribution of another 2 1/2 percent. That will cost the district $180,000. During the past four years, the district has had to fund more than $300,000 in increased retirement contributions.

During the same 4-year period, district health-care insurance costs have gone up between 15 percent and 18 percent per year.

Add to that other increasing costs, such as gasoline, and the district is facing some tough decisions without an increase in its supplemental funding, according to Larson.

Originally, the current override was passed to support some non-mandated programs the district felt were too important to ignore. Among those were the full-day kindergarten program that costs the district $447,000 per year. Other programs supported by the supplemental funding are specialty teachers for music, band, physical education and gifted programs; counseling and nursing services; and intervention and alternative education programs. Athletic programs at Cottonwood Middle School, costing $45,000 each year, are included in the non-mandated programs partially supported by the override money.

Larson said the current 5-percent override provides about $427,000 in supplemental funds each year, but that amount does not cover the costs of the programs for which it was earmarked.

"We have supplemented the original override," Larson said. "It never fully covered those programs. Now we're at the breaking point."

If these non-mandated programs are to be continued, the district desperately needs its current override increased, according to Larson.

"If we don't get the override, we're looking at serious cuts in programs," Larson said.

Larson pointed out that Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is the largest district in the Verde Valley with more than 2,500 students in kindergarten through eighth grades. She also said the district has one of the lowest primary and secondary tax rates in the valley. The district's combined tax rate is $2.10, compared with Mingus at $2.10, Camp Verde at $4.63 and Sedona at $2.92, said Larson.

The override question will appear on the General Election ballot March 8, 2005. Early voting begins Feb. 3. Voter registration forms are available through all COCSD schools and the Motor Vehicle Department offices. Early vote-by-mail ballots may be requested through the Yavapai County Elections Department at 928-771-3248.

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