The Gilbert Public Schools governing board unanimously approved its budgets for fiscal year 2021-22 on June 29, including a decrease for its largest budget and increases elsewhere.

The budget also will result in a small property tax decrease for property owners in the district.

"One thing that we've been stellar on is making our budget very transparent, showing what our decisions are and being fiscally responsible," board member Jill Humpherys said. "And I appreciate all the work that the finance department, but also the board, has done. It's really important that our constituents know how their tax funds are being spent. That's one of the great parts of public schools—you know where your money's going."

The board approved a $260.91 million budget for maintenance and operations, the largest budget, which covers most of the day-to-day operations of the schools, including salaries. That’s a decrease of $2.81 million from the district’s final revised budget for fiscal year 2020-21, which ended at $263.72 million.

The decrease is mostly attributable to a projected loss of 400 additional students in average daily membership, 200 in kindergarten through eighth grade and another 200 in high school, district officials said.

Average daily membership is the total enrollment of fractional students and full-time students, minus withdrawals, of each school day through the first 100 days in session. It is a key number in the state’s school funding formulas.

The proposed budget includes $31 million from the district’s 15% maintenance and operations override approved by voters in 2019 and a $23.88 million budget balance carry forward from this fiscal year.

Board Member Lori Wood asked about the large budget carry forward balance, and Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said much of it came from federal funding covering some of the district's maintenance and operations expenditures, displacing money into the budget balance carry forward. Betz said the carry forward money will allow the district some flexibility going into another year of uncertainty.

The district budget includes increases from payments to the Arizona State Retirement System; a 1% medical insurance premium increase; increases to minimum wage; a 2% employee pay increase to those who are not minimum-wage earners, temporary employees or substitutes; and increases for special education.

However, the district was able to close the gap with items such as a decrease in personnel following March layoffs and the closure of Houston Elementary School.

The average teacher salary in the district is increasing 5% to $57,018 from the 2% employee pay raises and a one-time 3% pay boost from the third round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, commonly called ESSER III.

Unrestricted capital budget

The outlook is better for the district’s unrestricted capital budget as the state has moved to fully restore District Additional Assistance—capital funding for districts by a state formula. The Arizona Legislature slashed the funds in the wake of the Great Recession and has been slowly restoring it since 2018. The unrestricted capital budget covers capital items such as buildings, buses, textbooks and technological devices.

The approved FY 2021-22 unrestricted capital budget is $20.33 million, an increase of $3.59 million from $16.74 million in the final revised budget for the current fiscal year, which closes June 30.

The capital plan for the coming year includes $4.98 million on curriculum and $2.6 million on software licenses and less than $1 million on other nondiscretionary items, but the district will have $11.86 million to spend on capital items to meet performing arts needs, athletics, school marquees and other general capital needs.

The budget includes an assumption that the state House of Representatives-approved budget will be signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, which has not happened yet.

Property tax rate

The primary property tax is decreasing to $0.0694 to $3.6944 per $100 in assessed valuation and from $0.1467 to $1.2573 for the M&O override. However, the secondary property tax rate from Class B Bonds approved by voters will increase $0.0273 to $1.1175 per $100 assessed valuation.

All three rates are lower than was advertised in the last election pamphlet published. With the different rates combined, district taxpayers will see a decrease of $0.1888 per $100 assessed valuation and $0.391 per $100 assessed valuation than publicized in the election pamphlet.

That means a homeowner with a home given a “limited property value” of $250,000 by the Maricopa County Assessor’s office would pay $47.20 less for the year than they would have in the past year on the same assessment. However, the actual difference paid also will be dependent on how much greater the value assessed is, as more than 90% of Maricopa County homes go up the maximum 5% per year in limited property value, according to the assessor’s office.