Override Election: Your schools, your choice

Camp Verde USD plugs for needs

May 15, Camp Verde voters decide on whether to give the local public school district $575,620 in an override election.

This election is primarily focused on smaller class size for kindergarten, first grade and second grade, and on rebuilding/improving the fine arts program. Of lower priority are adding a female physical education teacher, creating the position of dean at the elementary and middle schools, having aides available to monitor lunch hours, a better health coverage package for the maintenance department and other items.

"It's their money; their choice," Superintendent Jeff Van Handel said of Camp Verde voters. "It's their property taxes; their schools."

The override is estimated to cost residents $65 a year per $100,000 of assessed valuation. The override, if approved, would be in effect through fiscal year 2013-14.

The first five years, the override amount is 8 percent. For fiscal year 2012-13, the override is 5.33 percent, and in 2013-14, the override is 2.67 percent.

"A lot of people don't live in $300,000 homes and can't afford more property tax," said Arliss Morse, the district's former curriculum director and a critic of the override.

Class Size

The current K-2 teacher-to-student ratios range from 1-to-20 up to 1-to-23. While that is not excessive for grades overall, Van Handel said K-2 are formative years and the smaller the classes the better for beginning learners.

The proposed override would presumably allow the hiring of one teacher in each of those grade levels. That would allow the ratio to be one teacher for 17 students in kindergarten, and one teacher to 19 students in first and second grades.

Morse said that instead of hiring teachers, the district should take better care of the teachers on staff.

Fine Arts

Previous budget cuts have done a number in the Fine Arts department at the schools, especially in music. The cutbacks and other circumstances have led to little participation in band and choir.

One teacher is responsible for the music education in the entire district. Enrollment has shriveled to eight band students and four choral students in high school and to nine band students and no chorus in middle school.

If the override fails, the district has plans to cut the music program entirely. If the override is approved, the district plans to have one choral teacher for the middle and high schools, one band teacher for the middle and high schools and one music teacher for the elementary.

In art, the district currently has one teacher at the high school. Another teacher is divided between the middle and elementary schools - about 1,000 students. The override would provide funding for an additional instructor so there would be an art teacher at each school.

According to Van Handel, the additional funding could allow the district to begin to recreate the marching band, school chorus and theater department. It would also allow smaller class sizes in the fine arts, he said.

Physical Education

Presently, the district has one PE teacher for the elementary, a male teacher and a female teacher for middle school PE, and one teacher and an aide for high school PE. The override would add a female PE teacher for the high school.

Mentors/Gifted Education

One department falls under a state mandate for gifted education. Funds from the override would help the school pay for another gifted-education teacher to meet the state requirements. The gifted teachers and M&O-funded mentors will be additions with or without the override.

Administration/Aides

Camp Verde High School has a dean of students, but the middle school and elementary do not. The override funding would allow hiring two Teachers on Assignment as deans (or more specifically activities directors) who also serve in the classroom.

The proposed override is also expected to provide pay for 5,800 hours of supervision by aides during lunch for the three schools to limit staff coverage.

Criticism

Critics of the proposed override have said the district has not spent wisely on administration and should learn to live within its budget.

Van Handel said operating costs continue to rise faster than revenue.

"When charter schools came into existence, the district lost a number of students to other schools," Van Handel said. "It was enough to hurt but not enough to reduce our operating costs."

Chester Newton/Sunnyside enrolls 138 students as a charter, and PACE Academy has around 80. The private United Christian School has 76 students. There are also other charter and private schools available.

The little draining to other schools has cost about $1 million in revenue, according to the superintendent. He said previous belt-tightening led to the cutting of a number of programs that have never recovered.

Resident Robert Horak said the override is too extensive and complicated. He cited information that teacher Helen Freeman expressed as an "Argument Against" the override in the official informational pamphlet.

"All the items for it [Arguments For] were signed by different members of the school, from the principals on down," he said. "I agree with Freeman; there are all kinds of things wrong with it. It's too elastic, too long."

Morse, who worked in the district 1981-2003, said she became opposed to the override "when I saw what they were asking for - and that's only the first year. Who knows how the money will be spent in subsequent years?"

Some have complained that certain administrators do not live within the district and therefore would not have to pay for the override. For instance, Van Handel lives in Anthem. His wife works in Tempe, and they consider their home site a 50/50 commute.

However, Van Handel said administrators that live outside the district have pledged an equivalent donation to the school if the override passes. State law does not allow districts to make residency a requirement for administrators.

Morse said it is important for administrators to live in town to understand the culture of the town.

"Everyone has reasons for living where they want," Van Handel said. "I don't believe it lessens their dedication."

Without the override, Van Handel predicted the district will be become "core curriculum."

Morse said staying within a budget can require creative thinking, "But it's possible. You just work it and work it until you get it right."

To vote, the Camp Verde Unified School District is located at 410 Camp Lincoln Road. May 15, the polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Early ballots may be mailed or dropped off at the district office. For more information, call 567-8000.

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