Millions are at stake with Gilbert’s two school districts as the all-mail election begins this week for bond and override elections.
Residents have until tomorrow, Oct. 7, to register or update their registration to vote. Only voters who live within the boundaries of Higley Unified School District and Gilbert Public Schools will cast ballots.
All eligible voters will receive a ballot this week.
Voters can drop off their ballots at drop boxes or mail them in by Oct. 30. Those who want to vote in person can go to a ballot replacement center on Election Day. For locations of boxes and centers, go to recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace/
Gilbert Public Schools is asking voters to approve a $100 million bond issue to pay for capital projects such as new security camera systems districtwide, renovating and upgrading performing arts and athletic facilities at secondary schools and replacing buses.
GPS is also seeking a 15-percent maintenance-and-operations override. An override allows a district to increase spending for its day-to-day operations. Voters in 2015 passed a 10-percent override, which begins to expire in the 2021-22 school year.
If the 15-percent override is approved, it would replace the previous override and give an additional $10.6 million to the district – $2 million to reduce class size, $6.8 million to retain and attract teachers and $1.65 million to hire social workers and mental-health counselors.
Voters in 2015 approved a $98 million bond, of which $90 million has been spent as of September.
The 2015 bond monies went for projects such as remodeling student restroom, updating phone systems at campuses and the district office and new gym flooring. This past year alone, the district spent $11 million in upgrades and renovations at over 30 of its 40 campuses, according to officials.
Bond debt is generally paid off through an increase in the secondary property tax rate. But district officials say residents won’t see an increase in their property taxes because the 2015 bond debt will be paid off and the new bond debt will take its place.
Fourteen citizens – including former Town Councilman Ben Cooper, former school district governing board members and Gilbert Chamber President/CEO Kathy Tilque wrote in favor of both measures in the informational pamphlets that go out to voters.
They argued the district needs the money to continue its outstanding educational system – a plus in building a strong community and attracting businesses.
Two arguments opposing the passage of the both the bond and override were submitted by former school board member Julie Smith and residents Christine and Aaron Accurso.
Smith questioned the district’s need for more money when she claimed it is “wasting bond money on imprudent renovations and seemingly unnecessary busses.”
The Accursos asked why the district was asking for more money to improve buildings that are “half-empty” and pointed to district studies that showed a decline in student enrollment.
According to the district, the override would bring in about $31.8 million per year for five years and then decrease by a third in each of years six and seven unless renewed by taxpayers.
If approved, property owners would see a secondary property tax increase. Currently, with the 10-percent override the average monthly tax is $8. It would be $12 with the new override.
If voters reject the override, about $21 million would need to be cut from the budget over three years, starting in school year 2021-22, according to the district.
Meanwhile, Higley is asking voters to continue a 15-percent override approved in 2015 and permission to repurpose unspent money from a $70.5 million bond passed in 2013.
The district, which oversees 13 campuses located in Gilbert and Queen Creek, used the 2015 override dollars to increase teacher compensations, hire more staff to reduce class sizes and buy educational resources for classrooms. If continued, the override dollars would fund increase teacher compensation, maintain average class sizes and support gifted, special education and all-day kindergarten.
With the 2013 bond, Higley has $14.7 million remaining that it wants to redirect to ongoing student transportation and technology needs, according to officials. At the time the bond went up for election, the district proposed spending for land purchase and a transportation-support facility, which are no longer needed.
Seven people, including Tilque and Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels, wrote in favor of the override. No arguments opposing the override were submitted.
Gilbert voters who live within the Chandler Unified School District are being asked to approve a $290-million bond – the largest in the district’s history.
Arizona’s second-largest school district says it needs the bond money to accommodate the 3,000 extra students projected to come to CUSD within the next decade.
And in Mesa Public Schools, officials there are seeking to increase the maintenance-and-operations override to 15 percent from 10 percent. If the increase is rejected, the budget would need to be cut by about $13 million for 2020-21, according to the district.
This is the second consecutive year that Mesa schools are seeking the override, which narrowly failed last year.
A total 26 Maricopa County school districts, including Queen Creek Unified are holding elections on bonds or overrides or both in November.