Peoria Unified School District budget override

Signs around Glendale urge support for the Peoria Unified School District budget override.

It was a rollercoaster week, with stomachs flipping nervously at Peoria Unified School District’s Glendale office.

For the likes of Danielle Airey, PUSD chief communications officer, Monday through Friday of last week were filled with tension, hopes - and, ultimately, disappointment.

It will be back to the chalkboard for PUSD after voters rejected a bond override request by 133 votes.

The difference is .29% - less than one-third of a percentage point. 

Is that close enough for PUSD to ask for a recount?

“We will reconnect with our team next week to determine next steps,” Airey said Saturday.

The district, which has 42 schools in Peoria and Glendale, asked voters for a $33.7 million budget override.

The loss does not mean immediate budget cuts.

“We are in year four of our 2015 approval,” said Airey. “If not renewed in year five - November 2020 - mandatory budget reductions start in year six.

“The way override is put in place, you can go out to community to secure your override. We technically have one more year to go out to the community.” 

The failure to secure financing of $33 million means “potential for a lot of different things,” Airey said. “We’d have to look long and hard at a number of other things about how we do business. Safety will always be a priority for us, we don’t want to cut too deeply.”

According to the district’s website, the failure of the override could mean class-size increases, an end to free kindergarten, fee increases, staffing cuts and salary reductions:

“Without an override in place, the district would lose more than $26 million a year in funds that support people and programs. 

“All staff would see a compensation decrease, the district could no longer maintain health care professionals and assistant principals on all campuses, putting the district in a safety deficit. In addition, class sizes would increase and the ability to offer programs such as arts, music, physical education and gifted education programs would be threatened.

“There would be a charge for full-day kindergarten. Fees related to athletic and extracurricular activities would also significantly increase and these programs would be reduced.”

Close votes are not new for Peoria Unified School District.

PUSD voters first approved a 10% override in 1996 and renewed in 2001, 2006 and 2012. In 2015, voters approved a 13% override. The authorization lasts for seven years and phases out over the last two years if not renewed or replaced with another voter-approved initiative.

The 2015 override passed by 1,882 votes. Four years ago, 32,990 voted in the PUSD ballot measure.

This year, 46,448 voted in PUSD - a 40% increase. 

As last week progressed, the difference went from really-close to super-close to excruciatingly close.

 

First ballot count,

Tuesday, Nov. 5, 5 p.m.:

With 42,987 ballots received in the district, the county counted 21,648 No votes, 519 more than the 21,029 Yes votes. The difference was about 1.5% (50.73% No, 49.27% Yes).

“We have been in this position through past elections and remain cautiously optimistic,” PUSD Superintendent Linda Palles Thompson said, after the first count. 

“We are hopeful the results will swing in our favor and look forward to the next update.”

 

Second ballot count, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 5 p.m.:

The Maricopa County Elections vote count showed the PUSD bond override still failing, but by only 432 votes (21,543 Yes votes, 21,975 No votes).

“The Peoria Unified School District’s override is too close to call,” stated a PUSD release.

 

Third ballot count,

Thursday, Nov. 7, 5 p.m.:

With 45,712 ballots counted for Peoria Unified’s override election, the county counted 22,550 Yes votes to 22,821 No votes. 

The No lead was down to 321.

“It’s a brutal wait,” Airey said, with a sigh Friday afternoon, as the clock ticked toward the final count.

“We have been all along been taking a cautiously-optimistic approach - everything with tempered enthusiasm.

“We’ve been in this situation before …”

All in all, she said, “We are pleased with the way the election is trending. We are even more pleased with the turnout of voters.”

 

Final ballot count,

Friday, Nov. 8, 6:47 p.m.:

The elections department counted 22,981 Yes votes for the PUSD override, 133 less than the 23,114 No votes. Yes votes translate to 49.855% versus 50.144% No votes, a difference of .29%

This was the final, official count, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department. 

“All ballots have now been tabulated,” a press release stated. (For full results, see recorder.maricopa.gov/electionresults.)

“I congratulate Maricopa County voters on another great election,” said Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes.

 

Post-final ballot count,

Friday, 7:35 p.m.

“The final update from Maricopa County Recorder’s Office was released just before 7 p.m. showing that Peoria Unified’s election failed by just 133 votes,” said Airey, in a press release. “This is a disappointing loss for our district.

“We are proud to be part of a community that displayed such high levels of engagement by exercising their right to vote. Our leadership team will reconnect next week to determine next steps and keep our community updated.”

Saturday morning, Airey was asked about “uncounted” votes.

The county’s final results show 46,448 total ballots cast in the district - however, when Yes and No votes are added, the total is 46,095. This  leaves 353 ballots untabulated.

“The reason that the two numbers don’t add up is that the total includes the ‘under’ and ‘over’ votes,” said Airey, via email.

“Undervotes are those that returned a ballot and didn’t vote for our question, the line was too thin to read, etc. Over ballots mean that the voter selected both ‘yes’ and ‘no.

“We had 340 undervotes and 13 overvotes.”

She said the district was proud of the increased turn out, especially as this was an election where ballots could only be mailed, with no polling places open.

As with other school districts, PUSD was not permitted to openly lobby for voter approval, focusing instead on education for voters to be as informed as possible before making decisions.

Much of the information was on the district’s website peoriaunified.org, which states that if the override passed, “The associated tax rate would amount to approximately $1.74 per $100 of assessed property valuation.

According to the measure’s informational packet, “The proposed 15% override authorization would continue the district’s current 13% override authorization approved by the voters in the District on Nov. 3, 2015, and would increase the amount the override exceeds the District’s revenue control limit from 13% to 15%.” 

“The dollar amount for the first year for which the budget increase was adopted is $33,702,108,” the packet states.

It says the increase is for:

• Student and staff safety.

• Attraction and retention of the best teachers and staff possible.

• Athletics and extra/co-curricular activities.

• Physical education.

• Nurses and health services.

• Art.

• Band and chorus.

• Assistant principals.

• Reading and gifted programs.

• Maintain class size.

• All-day kindergarten.