Chandler Unified vote could save $40 million - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler Unified vote could save $40 million

July 5th, 2021 development
Chandler Unified vote could save $40 million

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

Chandler Unified School District will ask voters this November to renew a 15-percent budget override to preserve as much as $40 million in needed revenue.

That money typically funds teacher salaries, professional development and small class sizes.

“With the elimination of an override, many of those areas would have to be cut back because of the reduction in funding,” warned Lana Berry, the district’s chief financial officer, June 23 as the Governing Board called for the election.

The passage of another override won’t result in a new pot of money, Berry explained, since it would only maintain the district’s current funding levels for its maintenance and operations budget.

“We’re just going after a continuation of existing funding we have in place so that we don’t receive a cut,” she added.

The Governing Board unanimously passed the resolution, which asks voters to let the district continue exceeding its state-mandated budget limit.

According to the resolution, funds generated from an override renewal must be spent on personnel, enhancing technology and maintaining safety features.

If a renewal is not granted, then CUSD said the district won’t be able to offer competitive salaries and would struggle to recruit new talent.

“There is a large shortage of qualified teachers,” a CUSD memo states. “The passage of the override helps the district avoid being impacted by the current teacher shortage.”

Override money is calculated each year through the district’s average daily membership, which is how the state measures student enrollment.

Since the district had been experiencing steady enrollment growth up until the pandemic, its override allotment increased from $29 million in 2015 to $41 million in 2021.

CUSD could see its override money shrink in the 2021-2022 school year by about $1 million due to a downturn in enrollment experienced in the pandemic.

Records show Chandler’s ADM rate decreased by 1,200 students between 2020 and 2021 – which was a bigger loss than what CUSD had projected in last year’s budget.

Chandler’s elementary schools have experienced some of the district’s biggest drops in enrollment. At the start of 2021, CUSD had 2,700 fewer K-6 students than it had in 2018.

Even though CUSD expects its declining enrollment to generate a $13-million funding loss, its proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 is considerably bigger than the previous year.

CUSD is considering adopting a budget totaling $417 million – an increase from the $378-million budget adopted for the current fiscal year that ends Wednesday.

Berry said changes in inflation, state funding and federal aid have contributed to the increase.

One of those changes involves the restoration of $4 million in state aid that had been lost due to disparities in how Arizona had been funding virtual learning.

Students learning remotely from home during the pandemic were funded at a rate that was 5 percent lower than that for in-classroom students.

But CUSD officials are not expecting to be penalized in the upcoming year for any students who have been learning virtually.

“We will not receive a reduction for distance learning,” Berry noted.

The district’s unrestricted capital fund, which pays for textbooks and library supplies, is projected to be fully restored in the proposed budget and would result in a 28-percent funding increase.

One of the saving factors for next year’s budget is a $30-million allotment in the district’s third round of federal pandemic relief funding.

Under the American Recovery Act passed earlier this year by Congress, all school districts are receiving a third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

The first two rounds were approved by Congress last year.

At least 20 percent of the ESSER III funding must be spent on addressing a district’s learning losses or academic gaps by using evidence-based interventions.

The proposed CUSD budget would additionally boost the average annual salary for teachers from $61,825 to $63,563.

The budget also calls for reducing the local property tax rate from 6.42 to 6.11 per $100,000 assessed value.

The possible renewal of the district’s budget override is not expected to have an impact on Chandler’s projected tax rates.

“There’s no tax increase whatsoever,” Berry added.

Override funding last for seven years after it is approved by voters, but it shrinks dramatically in the final two years.

District officials noted that historically voters have supported overrides.

The only time CUSD failed to obtain an override was in 2012.

Voters turned down the request 52-48 but enough voters changed their minds the following year when the override was again put on the ballot.

Voters last authorized an override in 2017 with the understanding that it would help CUSD recruit new teachers and increase student achievement.

If it failed this year, the measure could be put on the ballot again in 2022.

Putting the measure on this year’s ballot in what will be an all-mail election gives the district a second shot with voters next year if it is rejected.

A public hearing on the proposed 2021-22 budget will be held on July 14 before the Governing Board formally adopts it.