Gilbert Public Schools budgets grow, but tax increase smaller than anticipated; board talks protests, return to school

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools is proposing a combined $22.2 million in budget increases for its maintenance and operations and unrestricted capital budgets. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools is proposing a combined $22.2 million in budget increases for its maintenance and operations and unrestricted capital budgets. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools is proposing budgets of $258.7 million in maintenance and operations and $15.04 million in unrestricted capital for the 2020-21 school year.

District officials presented the proposal to the governing board at its June 9 meeting, but adoption will not come until a public hearing June 23.

The budget figures are an increase of $19.4 million in maintenance and operations, or M&O, and $2.8 million in capital. The capacities for each budget are largely figured by formulas from the state.

The voter-approved 15% M&O override and bond issue from the November ballot resulted in hikes in the secondary property tax, but the tax rate increases are less than the district anticipated and publicized in the ballot publicity pamphlet, according to data from the district's presentation to the board.

The district’s previous secondary property tax rate from an existing 10% override was $0.9548 per $100 assessed valuation. The district anticipated a rate increase to $1.4646 with override approval, but the proposed rate at the public hearing will be $1.38.

On the bonds issue, the district previously was at $1.0819 per $100 assessed valuation and advertised passage of new bonds would raise that to $1.13. Instead, the district is proposing $1.1038.

The district primary property tax is going down from $3.8656 per $100 assessed valuation to $3.7665.

Combined the property tax rate will go from $5.9023 per $100 assessed valuation to $6.2503, an increase of $0.348 per $100 assessed valuation, but $0.2099 less than what was anticipated at the time voters approved the override and bonds.

With the override, the district promised to use the additional money for increased salaries, classroom size reductions and social-emotional supports for students.

Most of the $19.4 million in the increased M&O budget is being used in those areas, with $1.33 million going to nondiscretionary increases, such as medical premiums, retirement system payments and the increase in the minimum wage.

However, Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said the additional money brought in from the override, anticipated to be more than $11 million, will not be enough to pay for the additional $18.07 million the district plans to put in the identified three areas. To bridge the gap, funds will be pulled in from elsewhere in the budget.

Betz said the classroom site fund, which is funded by state sales tax, is taking a hit of about $900,000 from the coronavirus pandemic, but a budget balance carry forward from this school year, once budgeted to be $9.04 million, has grown to $11.04 million, absorbing the blow.

The average teacher salary is anticipated to go from $52,446 to $54,884, a 4.65% increase. Support staff, administrators and other education professionals also are in line for a minimum 5% increase, according to the district.

Santa Cruz statement

Board President Charles Santa Cruz opened the meeting with a statement about the nationwide protests that have come in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department.

“We have all watched events that have reminded us that the progress we have made as a society is not enough,” Santa Cruz said. “We have witnessed the passionate demonstration of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds joined together and demanding equality and justice for all people. In the words “black lives matter,” we have been reminded that there is still a great deal of work that must be done in order to establish that more perfect union in our schools, our communities, our state and in our nation.”

The four remaining board members praised Santa Cruz’s statement at its conclusion.

Superintendent Shane McCord also thanked Santa Cruz for his words, saying that having known Santa Cruz for 20-plus years, he knows “every single letter in that statement came from the heart.”

“We have a lot of work to do in Gilbert Public Schools,” McCord said. “And I want to make sure that I recognize that publicly to anybody out there watching or that will see this [board meeting video] later.”

McCord acknowledged already hearing about past events out of Highland High School that raised concerns about racism and resurfaced in the past week on social media.

“Moving forward, we're going to do a lot of listening to begin with because formulating a plan without listening is just a waste of time,” McCord said. “As we move through the next month, month and a half, we'll be putting together teams to be able to listen to our students, our families, to make sure that we understand what the issues are in Gilbert Public Schools and make sure we take care of not just those students, but all of our students.”

School return task force

During the work study session, Teaching and Learning Executive Director Barbara Newman presented an update on the work of a task force that is preparing the district’s proposal on returning to school after the coronavirus pandemic.

The district is pushing back its proposal presentation to the board from June 23 to June 30, McCord said.

Newman discussed the work of 12 subcommittees considering different areas and detailed some of the questions being considered by each subcommittee.

Communications and Marketing Director Dawn Antestenis presented the results of two surveys the district has taken on the topic, one for employees and one for families.

The surveys found that while 70% of employees and 58% of families have at least moderate concerns about returning full-time to campuses in the fall, both groups solidly preferred that option to either remote school or a hybrid option of part in-person and part online instruction.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.