Jackson: Are you undecided on the Higley schools override?

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The day I got my property tax statement in the mail, I questioned why it had gone up so much from the prior year.

I logged onto treasurer.maricopa.gov, and entered my parcel number.  I saw the line item for “Higley Unified Overrides” --- my tax bill increased 403% in one year.  I was sick to my stomach.  That was 2016.  Now, three years later, our school district is asking voters to approve another extension of the override. In total you and I pay 53% of our property taxes to the school district. 

The recent article in the Queen Creek Independent, for Sept. 1, 2019, said, “The local override revenue goes toward competitive teacher and staff salaries; reduced class size. . .”  But does it? In 2018, Higley School District received $11. 1 million in override money.

I placed a phone call to Higley School District Superintendent Mike Thompson.  He was courteous and understanding and tried his best to answer my questions, but I was disturbed by one key fact.  When I asked him if he or anyone at the district office could account for where the $11.1 million was spent, he said “no, it’s not that simple.”  I asked more specifically, “can you tell me how much of the $11.1 million was actually spent on “competitive teacher and staff salaries, or on reducing “class size.”  He said, “no.”  It all goes into the General Maintenance and Operations Fund; from there it gets disbursed.  But how does the district ensure the $11.1 million gets distributed to teacher salaries and toward extra-curricular programs?    

There’s a second irony that defies logic.  In the same year that voters approved the override, the state of Arizona disbursed $259,266,200 to school districts from Trust Lands (Proposition 123).  The districts continue year after year to receive trust land money in addition to their bonds and overrides.  How is this money spent?  Who is supervising the expenditures of all this money?  Is the Higley School District --- or any other district --- accountable to any of the citizens who are paying the tax? 

Let’s face it, all of us have a soft spot for the teachers of our children.  And the district knows it.  We want conditions in our children’s classrooms to improve. Like many of you, I had three children attend Higley High School.  I never saw any evidence of this money making its way down to the classroom.   

At a bare minimum, the override money should be deposited in a separate fund, from where it can be monitored.   There should also be a website for citizens to log in, and see exactly where the bond and override monies are spent.  But the district is completely unchecked in this matter.   

We all love the youth of our neighborhood, and yet their teachers/coaches send them home, soliciting door to door, fundraising.  Cheerleaders, football players, basketball players, band members and the track team all come to my door.  This year the Higley football team traveled out-of-state --- why?  Superintendent Mike Thompson told me the cheerleaders wanted his permission to travel to Hawaii, instead they had to settle for Disneyland.  Are these “events” cogent to their education?  Do these requests and expenditures improve their extra-curricular experience?  

There are those citizens who will always vote to approve the override, and there are those who will always vote not to approve the override.  But what about those of you who are undecided or haven’t been able to inform yourselves as yet?  These few facts I’ve gleaned from sitting in my home, making a few phone calls, in one day. 

I urge you to reconsider the override this November until we compel our district officers to demonstrate they are wise public stewards.   Every year override money increases because property values go up, more families move into our district.  There’s a good chance in 2020 over $12 million dollars just in override money will be collected by the Higley School District.  Are you really willing to let the district spend with zero accountability?  vote no until we get transparency. 

David Jackson
Queen Creek

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