Thu, April 09

C-OC override committee needs help<br><i>Volunteers need more people and lots more money</i>

Cottonwood-Oak Creek schools need more money.

They also need a committee of volunteers to take that message to voters. But the incipient committee can't do much until it gets money and volunteers of its own.

In November, the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School Board decided to ask voters for a bump in the district's supplemental funding. The district currently has a 5-percent override, and it is asking to have that override increased to 10 percent. If approved, the increase would add about $25 to the tax bill of a home assessed at $100,000.

Without the increase, administrators say district elementary schools could lose their full-day kindergarten programs as well as music and physical education teachers. The middle school could lose its athletic programs. Nursing and counseling services also will be lost or reduced.

The district needs to get that message out. But state law does not allow spending a dime of district funds to promote the override election.

Consequently, an override committee is forming to raise both money and awareness. That committee hopes to cover the cost of signs, printing and mailers, but it doesn't have enough money to do its job.

"It's been a very slow start for us," said Dianna Munns, committee chair. She said the committee needs donations and volunteers. "We can't really do anything until that's accomplished."

Munns said money is needed to pay for paper, envelopes, copies, printing, postage and even ink cartridges. "No contribution is too small," she said.

Donations such as reams of paper or a place for the volunteers to use for making phone calls will help, according to Munns. "Any kind of donation, I'll make sure it's used."

Munns said the committee also needs volunteers because there is much work to do. "We'll do the legwork to make sure the override passes."

Volunteers will help with the advertising, mailings, phone calls to private citizens and visits to local businesses. Voter registration is another goal of the committee.

So far, the committee is small and is made up of people who have always been involved in the schools, according to Munns.

"Even if somebody can't attend the weekly meetings, they can make phone calls or contact business people they may know," Munns said.

Mingus Union High School District also is asking voters to renew its current 10-percent override. Like C-OC, that district will have to shut down programs if it loses the $500,000 the supplemental funding now provides.

Munns said it is important for people to understand that the two districts are not competing for approval of one override over another.

"Mingus and Cottonwood districts are working in cooperation," Munns said. "They're all our kids, whether they're in elementary or high school."

Eventually, once both districts have their override committees in place and funded, those committees will be crossing paths and making phone calls for each other, Munns said.

"There is a sense of community between Mingus and Cottonwood-Oak Creek," Munns said. "It is not one school pitted against another."

In an earlier story on the override, Julie Larson, C-OC superintendent, said the money raised by the current 5-percent override has been eaten up by rising costs. "We have no way to make more money," Larson said. "Our budget is based upon the number of students."

Larson said the district built a new school without impacting the local taxpayer. "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, which, according to Larson, are combining to put the squeeze on the district.

Larson said the Arizona State Retirement System has raised the required contributions of employees by 2.5 percent, requiring the district to make a matching contribution. That will cost the district $180,000, Larson said.

During the last four years, the district has had to fund more than $300,000 in increased retirement contributions. In the same period, district health-care insurance costs have gone up between 15 percent and 18 percent each year.

Checks for donations should be made out to the Cottonwood Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), which has offered to stand in as the committee's treasurer. Checks must be designated for the override committee.

For information or to volunteer, call Dianna Munns at 301-5224.

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