Should You Vote Yes for the 2013 Aqua Fria District Override?

Well first of all, GEOrgia Lord says to vote FOR it, so I was suspicious immediately.

GEOrgia says in her support letter that this is NOT a new tax, so your taxes will not go up.  Well, GEOrgia, as usual, is full of it. Of course this is a new tax, and if you vote AGAINST it, your taxes might go DOWN because as property values go up (which they have already, and we didn’t see GEOrgia and the city of GY lower rates did we?) you will see your taxes go up even more.

But Seriously, Folks
Ok, forget about GEOrgia’s advice, GEOrgia’s advice and two bucks will buy you a coffee at Starbucks.

In general, I favor good schools. I also happen to know some current and former school teachers in the area and I can tell you that school teachers in AZ are paid SQUAT, and way LESS than city employees.  A barely living wage, in fact.  And in addition, they have HUGE class sizes, that always seem to be getting bigger and bigger. I also believe that good schools foster higher property values.

Is AFUHSD Spending our Money Wisely?
So let’s look at the Agua Fria Union High School District (AFUHSD) in detail to see if we think they have been spending our money wisely and if we should give them more of it.

AFUHSD Facts (these are all rounded, and came from AFUHSD web pages and the individual HS web pages)
6,600 students at 4 high schools.
Aqua Fria = 1600, Desert Edge = 1600, Verrado = 1600, Millenium = 2150 Total = 7,000?

I know, it does not add up. Not a good thing. The numbers on the web pages vs their annual reports are not in sync.

Annual spending ~ $37-38 million.  Half comes from the state (still us, although GEOrgia might not agree), half from local property taxes.
Total employees, 680.  I’m guessing about 400 of these are actual teachers. More later on that.
Salaries = $18.6 million.  Teacher Instruction salaries = $10 million.  Only a bit more than half their salary budget appears to go to actual instruction.
Admin salaries, $2 million.  Athletics salaries, $1 million, Plant operations salaries, $2 million. Just those 3 make 50% of what all the teachers make.

In fact, of the nearly $38 million spent in AFUHSD, only about $13.4 million is actually spent on instruction.

Lets take a look at one school.  I picked it randomly, Agua Fria High School which represents about 25% of the district.
Students, 1600.  Total staff, best I could tell = 89. Here is the break down:
Math & Science 25
English, Social Science, Language 29
Total Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic classroom instructors = 54 for 1600 students.

So there are only 54 reading, writing, and arithmetic TEACHERS at a school that serves about 25% of the entire district. 25% of the entire district expenditures of $37 million per year is over $9 million. If that were going to these 54 teachers, they would each be making nearly $175,000 per year!!

That’s like the salaries of the GY City Manager and a few of his higher paid deputies, and I can assure you, NONE of these teachers make anywhere NEAR that much.

So where is all the money going to?

There are 7 Admin employees working in the Principle’s office at just this high school, 4 PE, 2 Aerospace, 6 Tech (and that does NOT include Wes-Mec the regional tech school. They have their own taxing authority), and 6 Fine Arts (OK, nothing wrong with fine arts).

Does it take 7 admins to manage 82 college grad (many with higher level degrees) teachers?
Does it take a PE staff of 4 for 1600 kids? Do we need all those tech folks in addition to Wes-Mec?

I don’t know. But even if you put all 82 in the mix with the 54 basic education teachers, we’re still spending nearly $115,000 per teacher that is actually IN the classroom.  I think teachers in AZ make only about $40,000 to $50,000 TOPS and their salaries start in the $30’s.

This district does not seem very well managed to me when in a $37 million budget only $10 million is going to teacher salaries and when reading, writing, and arithmetic make up just over half of the classroom teachers in one of their schools.

Some Questions
Is there some magic to having a school district with only 6,000 to 7,000 students?
Why is there a separate HS district from the elementary school and middle school districts?
Why is there only one HS district for multiple cities (GY, Avondale, Litchfield, Buckeye, and part of Glendale) but separate lower school districts for many of those towns?
And doesn’t each separate district, have it’s own superintendent and all of their staffs? You bet they do.

Nope, they’d have to explain all of this to me to get my vote, regardless of what GEOrgia says.


8 Responses

  1. Your article was featured on the EVNN (East Valley NewsNet):

  2. Howard I was on the Agua Fria School Board for four years and on the Rowland Unified School Board for 20 years. Your reasoning is pretty much spot on but a little low on expenses. It is true that teachers make between $40 and $50 thousand per year but you have to add to that taxes, insurance and stipends, such as department heads, and extra curricular activities. These cost amount to about 44% of the salary. In addition Each school has I Principle, and three vice principles, each of those has an assistant. More like a secretary, 2-3 attendance clerks, a book store manager and a clerk, a librarian with one to two clerks, several people in the cafeteria, plus janitorial staff. Each of these schools are small communities.

    Now do I agree with schools living beyond their means? Lets take a look. Each school receives money based on their ADA (Average Daily Attendance) from the state. The balance of their money comes from property taxes as you stated. It is and always has been my stance that they should base and live within that budget. Some where along the line the state started letting schools do an “Override of their budget with voter approval for three years. Well like most things they have grown used to it and keep coming back for more. When does it stop when the voters stop allowing it.

    Now if a school district needs money for a new school or to improve a older school they can ask for a Bond Election. These are usually paid off in 7-10 years. Those Bonds are for a specific request and must be used for that purpose such as specific school improvements eg new roof, enlarge a building or build a new building because of growth. They can not be used for salaries.

    Now how I feel is this override should be voted down and the districts need to trim their budgets to live with in their means. If they need more funds go to a Bond Election so the public knows where this money is going to be spent and why. Override money has no control it simply goes to the M&O account.

    Sorry for this long commit but I wanted to help you and your readers a little understand how this works. There is a lot more I could say and I will be glad to meet with you if you have any questions.

  3. Hate to say it but THEYLEARN BY EXAMPLE… and I’m talking about the politics of it and not the kids. Its the trickle down effect, and the longer it trickles the worse it will get. Keep up the good work Howard.

  4. I will not blame it on the state but the Litchfield District alone has received $8.5M less since 2008. If we were a business we would have to close. But we can’t. Our adm. cost is 9.1% which is currently one of the lowest in the state and nation. We are operating on a budget that is $100K more then the 2008 budget and we have built 2 new schools and have an additional 2000 students since 2008.

    Our state is 50th for the amount of money spent by the state on education. That is something the school districts cannot control. The only thing we can control are cuts. Our district has already cut all librarians (who taught technology), cut half of our nurses, combined bus routes and more. The override funding is critical to offer our students a chance to compete by paying for reading specialists, classroom assts. intervention specialists etc. It is not money wasted. I believe that LESD is one of the most fiscally responsible districts in the state. Our business director was a former school auditor and CPA and you can bet that your tax dollars are spent wisely.

    I am happy to live in a state with very LOW property tax. I imagine most citizens have come from somewhere else and are happy to arrive in Arizona and enjoy a low cost of living. I have factual 2012 tax information comparing the property tax from 4 states on a $200K property. In NY they pay $8100, OH $6867, MI $4015 and AZ $2700. Property tax is what funds education….and AZ is starting at the bottom. I am happy to pay low tax, but not at the expense of our schools.

    We are most proud that our school district is an “A” district with 11 out of 13 schools rated an “A.” We are the #1 elementary school district in the state and we hear often how parents moved here because of the school district. I have been here for 20 years and know for a fact that I am thrilled that my property values have held their own and increased because of the great school district. All we ask is for our community members to please support YOUR local schools. They belong to you and we are happy to have all of you in our community. And this is not a partisan issue but what is best for our future. I am choosing to VOTE YES for our kids. Someone paid for my kids….I am now happy to pay for our future generation.

  5. There are not 7 administrators per High School campus. There are 4. A principal, two AP’s and a athletic/activities director. That is 1 administrator for each 400 students. In addition the district trimmed over $850,000 in administrative costs since 2008. 12 positions and various program costs. During this same time we added around 800 to 900 students and continue to grow. MHS does have 1 additional part-time administrator for the 550 students more than the other campuses. As the Superintendent since 2008, I know first hand what this has been like to manage 100% cut to the state facilities budget (thankfully the good people of our community supported the last bond which really made a difference)…with 21% of the education budget cut in Arizona since 2008 I am glad we have done our part to support the state in asorbing these needed cost cuts. The override is a request to continue the 10% level of support we have had for the past 21 years and not a request for a rate increase, nor is it reflected in the 21% cut from the state which we have managed. I would be happy to share any facts with community members because that is what I am allowed to do. Please let me know if you need me to attend any community meetings or forums because we support and care about the community and your concerns.

    Dennis Runyan
    Superintendent AFUHSD

    • That’s great. Everyone should have to cut back during a recession. Too bad the city of Goodyear does not.

      If I were you, and I wanted to convince Pebble Creekers to go for more school taxes, I’d start a campaign among school parents to get GY to stop it’s increased spending and trade city property tax reductions for school tax increases. Creekers would go for that.
      Or do separate public entities agree not to criticize each other in public?

      GY budgeted $85 mil in operating expenses this year and spent only $65 mil only a few years ago. The city levy was up over 7% this year.

      How would you like to have that kind of cash? And I would rather see it go to schools which, when highly rated, increase property values rather than wasting millions each year on ill conceived economic development programs managed by people who have never worked outside government.

      It only takes 5000 votes to win an election in GY. Pebble Creekers all go vote, even snow birds. That’s why there have been 3 Creekers out of 7 council people over the past few years and they spend whatever they want. Get your parents to vote in city elections for God’s sake. Only one young guy even tried last year and he got crushed.

      And your web site IDs 7 people in the admin dept at the high school. Maybe that is incorrect. Just like the district total enrolled does not match the separate HS web site figures.

  6. I think we should worry less about money and more about what they are being taught. Please check out COMMON CORE practices that take away the state, our boards and teachers from having a say in how and what is being taught today. Check out

    A concerned grandparent,
    Donna M Goranson

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