GPS to again ask voters to OK override | News

By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
10 Min Read

Voters in Gilbert Public School’s boundary will again be asked in November to allow the district to continue its 15% operational spending override after rejecting the same measure last fall.

The district spends the additional money to increase teachers and staff salaries, maintain campus safety and reduce class sizes.

“We are asking that you approve this so we can go back to the voters and maintain all of the things that the override currently pays for and then some for our school district,” Superintendent Dr. Shane McCord told the GPS Governing Board last week.

And in lieu of a bond election, the Governing Board also unanimously voted to ask voters allow on Nov. 5 to let it sell two pieces of land. The voter authorization would never expire and could generate up to $16 million to put toward capital projects.

Voters rejected a $100-million bond in the November 2023 election.

According to Bonnie Betz, associate superintendent for business and support services, the override voters approved in 2019 will start phasing down in the 2025-26 school year. The district will still get the full 15%, or $36 million, for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Betz said that since 2021, the district has added over $51.5 million for boosting salaries, $2.5 million for safety measures and $2 million allocated for class-size reduction.

In 2020, the average teacher base pay in GPS was $52,446 and in 2024, it rose to $64,648 – a 23% increase, she said.

The override “gave us the opportunity to kick-start being more competitive in the East Valley,” Betz said.

The override is funded by a property tax increase, and property values have increased in GPS, Betz noted.

And “we got more properties on the rolls to be taxed,” she said. “That very much helps because it spreads out the dollar amount being requested over a larger base.”

Boad President Sheila Rogers Uggetti noted the district has had the override in effect since 2021 and if it fails at the ballot box, spending cuts would be necessary, although the district has another shot at an override vote next year.

She added that not as many people are going into the education field and so the pool of applicants is not as big as it was 10 years ago. Investing in competitive teacher pay is vital as there is a teacher shortage throughout the state, she said.

Board member Jill Humpherys added that there currently are over 2,000 classrooms in Arizona that do not have a permanent teacher, so it’s highly competitive.

“It’s important to remember that the state really gives us money for a basic education – a very basic education,” Humpherys added. “And what the override does is it gives us additional funds for the high-quality education that our constituents want for this community, for these children.

“Having a little bit more money above what the state gives us helps us to be able to provide some of those quality things like smaller class sizes and competitive salaries that without the override we just would struggle.”

She said she was on the board at the time when the district didn’t have an override and it “was very difficult to continue the amazing programs that we have.”

Betz emphasized the importance of the override allowing GPS to hire quality staff.

“In 2016 when we did not have an override and all of the school districts surrounding us – Chandler Unified, Mesa Unified, Queen Creek, Higley, Kyrene – all were operating under a 15% override at that point in time,” she said. “So we have been almost catching up to be competitive because of this 15% override.”

The two parcels the district wants voters’ approval to sell are the Madero Property located east of Crimson Road and Madero Avenue in Mesa and the Cole Property, east of Cole Drive in Lakeview Trails North at Morrison Ranch.

“They were intended for elementary schools,” Betz said. “We are recommending that we at least get voter-approval to sell those two pieces of properties. It doesn’t mean we are obligated to sell them.

“This just gives us full flexibility in the future. Also it gives us an opportunity knowing that our bond funds are almost fully drawn down at this point in time.”

She said because the district has nearly depleted its bond dollars, only health and safety needs are being brought to the board for approval. The district is delaying projects such as installing secured entrances at campuses that do not yet have them.

According to Betz, the two proprieties are roughly the size of the former Neely Traditional Academy campus. The district sold the 13.6-acre property to the Town of Gilbert for $6.85 million in 2021.

According to Betz, each property would fetch the district $7.5 million to $8 million “of capital money into Gilbert Public Schools to help us get through the next few years.”

Board member Chad Thompson asked if district administration was concerned with selling off the Madero Property as it “seem to be where a lot of the growth is in our community.”

Betz said that she believed that overall, the district’s elementary sites are large enough to accommodate portable classrooms.

“They are an appropriate means by which we can control the ebb and flow of population,” she said. “We were at nearly 4,000 students not that long ago and today we are down to about 32,000.”

Jason Martin, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said that an annual consultant’s demographic study shows that although there is growth occurring, it will not be on the east side.

“Most of that area is actually built out within our official GPS boundary,” he said.

He added that Boulder Creek Elementary and Desert Ridge Junior and Desert Ridge High School have the capacity to accommodate additional students in that area.

“There are a lot of enrollment factors happening with less students that are living in our GPS boundaries,” Martin said. “So even with new housing, we are not seeing elementary and K-12 aged students moving into these homes nearly as much as we use to previously.”

He noted that the current home prices in the district’s boundaries also factored into the enrollment numbers.

Betz said if voters approve the land sales and the board moves forward in selling, the City of Mesa and Town of Gilbert would be contacted first to see if there was interest in buying before opening the bidding process to everyone.

All Gilbert and Mesa needed to do “is basically assure to us that they have a public purpose in mind for those pieces of property,” Betz said. “And at that point in time, we are able to sell it to them.”

McCord reminded the board that the district was not obligated to sell the land.

“I get contacted all the time by people in the community, businesses and investors about our properties,” McCord said. “If we have to end up going through that process, it’s very time-consuming and very detailed and there are certain things we can and cannot do. But we will be mindful of that in terms of anything we do we would only do it to benefit the district.”

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By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor , – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article , 2024-04-01 07:00:00
Tags: gilbert top news, gilbert hot news, gps spending override, gps asking voters to ok override, gilbert public schools news, gilbert public schools

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