Wed, April 01

School districts ask voters for help<br><i>Officials state their case during Cottonwood forum</i>

VVN/Philip Wright

School officials from Mingus Union and Cotton-wood-Oak Creek school districts asked voters during the Cottonwood Election Forum to support extensions and increases to current maintenance and operation budgets.

Representatives from Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts presented their arguments for passage of overrides during Wednesday night's Cottonwood Election Forum.

Each district is seeking approval of maintenance and operation override extensions. Cottonwood-Oak Creek seeks to have its current override doubled.

Julie Larson, superintendent of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, told a roomful of voters that her district and Mingus Union are not in competition with their separate override elections on March 8.

"It's all about Cottonwood kids," Larson said.

She said schools around the state are either seeking extensions of overrides or approval of new ones.

"Close to 60 percent of the schools in the state are having override elections," Larson said. "We're basically in the same financial situation."

Cottonwood-Oak Creek is asking to have a current override of 5 percent, approved by voters in 2002, extended. The district governing board is also asking voters to double the override amount to 10 percent.

Larson said the original override for 5 percent was approved in 1997 for programs in music, physical education, gifted education and full-day kindergarten.

"The override has never covered the costs of those programs," Larson said. She also pointed out that the district opened and staffed the new Tavasci Elementary School this year without any impact on taxpayers.

During the past four years, Cottonwood-Oak Creek has had to absorb an increase in retirement contributions of more than $300,000. The district also has been hit with 15-percent to 18-percent increases in its health insurance premiums.

Without the 5-percent bump in its current override, Cottonwood-Oak Creek schools face cutbacks or elimination of full-day kindergarten; specialty teachers for band, music, physical education; middle school athletic programs; school counseling and nursing services; and intervention and alternative education.

Larson said approving the override increase would cost district homeowners about $25 additional taxes on a home assessed at $100,000.

Speaking on behalf of Mingus Union High School District were board member Bryan Detwiler and former Sedona board president Becky O'Banion. O'Banion, a new resident in Clarkdale, has volunteered to help Mingus with its override election.

Mingus is asking voters to extend its current override of 10 percent for maintenance and operation.

Without voter approval of the extension, Mingus Union High School is expected to lose $519,000 each year.

Originally approved in 1985, the last extension of the Mingus override passed with only 50 votes to spare.

O'Banion pointed out that Arizona was once again 50th in the nation for money spent per child on education. "Somewhere we need a change," she said. But for now, the only way to bring about that change depends on voters approving the extension.

"Teachers are going to Wal-Mart to buy paste and posters," O'Banion said. She said teachers regularly pay out of their own pockets for classroom materials.

"A strong community has a strong school system," she said. "If you value quality of life."

She said continuance of the current override is vital to the success of Mingus' students.

Detwiler said voters understand economics. "The demands are increasing on us," he said.

Programs and services threatened at Mingus Union without the override extension include daily bus routes, extra-curricular activities, student-to-teacher classroom ratios, student services and teaching supplies.

The cost to taxpayers to extend the current Mingus override, based on a home assessed at $100,000, is only $1, according to school officials.

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