The MPS Governing Board

The MPS Governing Board approved a $474 million budget. Though this is a 3 percent increase over last year, due to new construction and higher home values, the district is lowering its tax rates.

Good news: The property tax rate is going down.

At its Monday evening meeting, the Mesa Public Schools Governing Board approved a new dress code policy and made a looming budget official, approving a 2021-22 spending plan and setting in place the next levy rate on Mesa homes within the district.

The largest district in the state estimates it will have $483 million at its disposal. The great portion of that, $442 million, comes from state and federal funding, with a combination of per-student funding and stimulus/COVID relief.

Assistant Superintendent Scott Thompson told the board three months ago

the district could receive more than

$240 million in combined Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money.

With that buffer, the board felt comfortable raising district spending 3 percent, from $460 million last year to nearly $474 million in the coming school year.

While the district also will be taking in more money from homeowners,

increased home values and construction enable the district to actually lower

the levy.

The primary tax rate drops from 3.9086 to 3.7034 and the secondary from 3.5081 to 3.3479. The total of the two falls, from 7.4167 to 7.0153.

Thompson stressed what homeowners actually pay depends on the county tax assessment -- as opposed to market values, which typically have been rising dramatically over the last few years.

Meanwhile, average MPS teacher salaries continue to increase, from $55,826 last year to $56,943 this fall. The average MPS teacher earned $46,436 in 2018.

The fall semester and 2021-22 school year begin with classrooms welcoming students back Aug. 3.

Thompson noted the district is in a win-win situation: After a sharp student

enrollment reduction during the pandemic, if students return to the district at pre-pandemic levels, state per-student funding will allow the district to replenish its reserves.

But if enrollment does not return to pre-pandemic levels, the district will not lay off teachers but simply reduce class sizes, Thompson said.

One parent, Lisa Ward, was puzzled by a late addition to the budget of $2.2 million for “adjacent pathways.” According to a “Truth in Taxation” notice, this would raise the tax on a $100,000 home from $25.67 to $31.73. 

“I didn’t know anything about this … how was the public notified about this?” Ward asked. “This is in addition to what people have voted on. That concerns me.”

(A notice was published in the June 30 edition of the Tribune.)

The board also unanimously approved a revised “Student Dress and Grooming Standards” policy, changing the last

sentence to  “Enforcement of these standards should minimize the loss of educational time.”

Jenny Richardson, Kiana Sears, Marcie Hutchinson, Lara Ellingson and Joe O’Reilly all voted in favor of the policy, though each raised questions about the specific regulations.

Several on the board agreed with Mark Kimball, a parent who challenged the following section of a draft on masks that said “All persons, including, but not limited to, staff, students and visitors, age two (2) or above, vendors, and volunteers, shall wear a cloth face covering when required for safety reasons, as determined by the superintendent.”

That applied to anyone “while on any district property, in any district facility, at any district event, whether indoors or outdoors, during school-associated activities, while participating in or observing any school-associated athletic activities and in any district vehicle...”

Ellingson said the mask language did not belong in the dress code and O’Reilly agreed, adding Gov. Doug Ducey recently approved legislation forbidding districts from enforcing mask policies.

The measure Ducey signed “prohibits a county, city, town, school district governing board or charter school governing body from requiring students or staff use face coverings during school hours and on school property.”

Parents may still require their children to wear a mask in school.

One main portion of the draft was debated:

 “Students must wear clothing including a top and a bottom (such as pants, skirt, shorts or the equivalent), or a one-piece outfit (such as a dress or jumpsuit) and footwear as required by state law. Tops and one-piece outfits must be secured with material at the shoulders or neck.”

Sears suggested the draft language about tops being secured might be too

restrictive. 

“There’s a plethora of dresses you can wear that don’t have straps,” Sears said.

While it approved the policy, the board did not vote on the more detailed “regulations,” such as the mask requirement.

During a primer on new laws passed

by the Legislature, the Arizona Association of School Boards Association last week advised districts that a mandatory mask requirement is illegal and cannot be enforced.

According to Heidi Hurst, a district spokeswoman, “Regulation JFCA-R, which implements the policy and includes

the (dress code) details, is still being

finalized. The board will not vote on the regulation. 

“They have provided input, which will be considered.” 

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