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Why all the fuss about Open Enrollment?

What’s the connection between Open Enrollment and District finances? And what do the bond and overrides on the ballot have to do with all this? Amy Krauss, CFSD Governing Board member and candidate, explores these questions and more.

There’s been a lot of chatter lately about Open Enrollment (OE) in the CFSD school board race. That may be because the Back to Basics slate launched their campaign with a promise to end OE and instead focus District resources on District residents. Tying District resources to OE is ill-informed, and voters need to understand the truth.

Open-Enrollment is Required By Law.

Arizona law requires public school districts to determine their capacity and then to fill to capacity by admitting students from outside district boundaries after resident students are given preference. Capacity is determined by physical space at each school, the teacher-student ratio, and by special services required by resident students. The law does not permit a school district to reject OE applicants if there is room for them to attend a particular school.

CFSD is educating 100% of resident students who attend our schools, but we still have lots of room to admit out-of-district students. This year, resident students comprise 52% of CFSD’s enrollment while the remaining 48% is populated by OE students.

OE Students Bring State Funding With Them.

Each OE student brings with him or her the base amount of per-public funding from the State, which is currently $4,778. With about 2,300 OE students enrolled this year, they bring nearly $11 million (or ⅓) to the District’s $35 million budget. That money pays for teachers and other critical personnel, and maintenance and operational costs such as utilities.

CFSD Reaches Optimal Efficiency with Enrollment at 5,000+ Students.

Years ago the CFSD Board set a performance goal for the Superintendent to grow enrollment to at least 5,000 students. That number raises sufficient funds for the district to offer all of the robust, rigorous academic opportunities that CFSD is known for, including a full elementary arts curriculum, K-12 robotics, two immersion programs, 22 AP courses, and 9 career & technical education pathways - in addition to all of the athletic and extracurricular activities offered across the K-12 spectrum.

This level of funding also permitted the CFSD Board to reduce class size in all K-3 classrooms, an effort that is targeted to continue throughout all grades over the next several years.

Limiting OE, Besides Being Unlawful, Is Bad for District Residents.

Simple math explains why resident students would not benefit from limiting OE. Remember, there are many fixed costs that don’t change depending on how many students are in a classroom, such as the teacher’s salary and benefits package, substitute costs, transportation costs, even the cost of heating, cooling and plumbing. If enrollment dips, so does the per-pupil contribution from the State; therefore, more of those dollars will have to be spent on these fixed costs, leaving less money available for all of the classes and programs currently offered to students. When classes are cut, teachers are also cut. Class size will increase. In the worst case scenario, two elementary schools and one middle school could shutter. None of this is good for resident students - or anyone owning property within CFSD boundaries.

Bonds and Overrides Cannot Make Up for Lost OE Funding.

There are 3 propositions for supplemental funding on CFSD residents’ ballots. Each provides critical funding to ensure CFSD’s continued success, but none make up for lost funding should the district see a decline in OE participation in our schools.

Proposition 488 asks voters to approve school improvement bonds. The last bond issuance approved by voters has been exhausted, so these funds are necessary to provide $38.5 million to maintain and improve school facilities. The list of projects addresses issues at every school and the district office and includes roofing, HVAC, weatherization, security upgrades, shade structures and more. Bond funds can only be used for capital needs and cannot be shifted to maintenance and operations (M & O), which includes teacher salaries.

Proposition 489 is a continuation of CFSD’s District Additional Assistance Override of $2 million per year for 7 years. These funds, which have been in place for 15 years, pay for technology and curriculum support materials. Here again, the law prohibits these funds from being applied to maintenance and operations.

The only lawful supplement to M & O is 13.3% override of the district’s budget. CFSD voters have approved this override for over 30 years, and it is once again on the ballot as Proposition 490. If approved, these funds will account for $4.1 million per year. These funds are critical, as 80% of the district’s budget pays for personnel. Without the override, CFSD will be forced to eliminate classes (and the teachers who teach those classes) to make up for this lost revenue.

So What’s the Bottom Line?

CFSD’s budget is adopted and approved after discussion at several open board meetings in April and May, and again in December. It is available online for anyone who wishes to take a deep dive into how every dollar is spent. “District resources,” i.e. those raised through a secondary property tax rate, are limited to the bonds and overrides described above. These funds maintain our buildings, technology and curriculum, and help pay for teachers and other personnel.

The funding to support all of our schools comes from Bonds, Overrides, and Per-Pupil State Funding. The elimination or reduction of any of these revenue streams will negatively impact the academic opportunities of all CFSD students. Conversely, keeping all eight district schools open, running efficiently, with smaller class sizes and offering a wide array of curricular and extracurricular opportunities, ought to be a priority for CFSD residents. It’s great for students, and it’s great for property values.

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