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AEL funding formula holds Scottsdale public education dollars hostage

Photo of advocate for Scottsdale public education
The aggregate expenditure limit is a spending limitation for school districts based on the aggregate expenditure of all districts. For the Scottsdale Unified School District the impact would be nothing short of catastrophic, according to Dr. Scott Menzel, superintendent of Scottsdale Schools. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)
1ON1 with Scottsdale public education leader, Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The last time Arizona voters decided on a spending limit formula for public school districts in the Grand Canyon State, ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson was the No. 1 album and television screens were routinely attuned to the prime-time soap opera, ‘Dallas.’

The year was 1980, the Arizona constitutional amendment was coined, ‘The Aggregate Expenditure Limit,’ and the outcome, which was in the affirmative, has created a financial conundrum in recent years whereas if the Arizona Legislature doesn’t act by overriding the existing limit by the end of February local school districts will be forced to reduce operating budgets by 17.5%.

Education leaders explain the aggregate expenditure limit equates to a spending limitation for school districts based on the aggregate expenditure of all districts. For the Scottsdale Unified School District the impact would be nothing short of catastrophic, according to Dr. Scott Menzel, superintendent of Scottsdale Schools.

“This will disrupt teaching and learning and it is nothing but a failure of our elected leaders at the Arizona Legislature to act,” Dr. Menzel told the Arizona Digital Free Press Sunday, Jan. 29. “This would be catastrophic and it is not the fault of any district — this is the fault of the Arizona Legislature.”

It was a different time as Dr. Menzel explains Arizona charter schools are not included in this spending stipulation for public education because they did not exist — a factor he points out of the inequitable equation at the capitol.

“For this to change it would require a two-thirds vote of both the Arizona House and Senate,” he explained of the override voting requirements, which has happened three times in the last 20 years, records show. “It is a lot of money when you are talking about the last quarter of the fiscal year. The state limitation would impose a $30.1 million reduction, which is 45 days of school.”

However, Mr. Menzel is steadfast in his explanation the issue at-hand is one not about funding — it is about government-mandated spending limitation.

“The people who want to claim school districts are siting on money, for many that is not true,” he said. “We built our budget on what they told us the state limitation would be — this is all strictly a function of the Arizona Legislature.”

AEL funding formula holds Scottsdale public education dollars hostage

1ON1 with Scottsdale public education leader, Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel

The Scottsdale Unified School District has a maintenance and operations budget of $180 million of which there are multiple budget categories. These three layers of regulated expenditures include:

  • Maintenance and Operations (M&O);
  • District Additional Assistance (DAA);
  • Classroom Site Fund;
  • Instructional Improvement;
  • State and Federal Grants, Bonds; and
  • Special Revenue Funds.

Dr. Menzel explains if the Arizona Legislature does not act to override the aggregate expenditure spending limit, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board will be forced to examine current operations and reduce its budget by $30.1 million for the balance of the school year.

“The governing board will look at all the options — none of us want to be in this position,” he explained of the dire consequences at stake. “There will be an impact, no question and this is not known. We build our budget on what the legislature appropriates and what our expenditure limit is — the constitutional provision has the ability to override the expenditure limit.”

Dr. Menzel explains the amount of money in question, which is part of the statewide economy is not being accurately considered, he contends.

“If you take $1.3 billion out of the state’s economy it will send shock waves I don’t think are being considered,” he said explaining those operating dollars pay salaries, mortgages and puts food on the table for thousands of local families. “Remember, we are talking about a spending limitation — it is not because they money doesn’t exist. It just about the act of overriding the AEL, which is critical.”

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