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Sun, Oct. 25

GC School takes look<br>at tax credit program

GC VILLAGE — When Grand Canyon School superintendent Ray Vernon took a look at the Arizona School Tax Credit program budget recently, a couple of things really jumped out at him.

Elementary music and art combined currently have $3,850 available for extracurricular activities. That represents 79 percent of the total K-8 tax credit fund budget.

For the past three years, taxpayers have contributed all that money to be spent on extracurricular activities involving art and music. The only problem — the school does not have those activities outside of regular classroom instruction.

"People who have donated to the music and art programs are not truly getting what they designated their money for," Vernon said, "and I want to make sure that does happen in the future."

Vernon met with the art and music teachers urging them to come up with ideas for extracurricular activities in those areas. Currently, the money can’t be spent because the programs do not exist.

"There are strings attached on how we can use the money," Vernon said. "We have to put certain things in place."

There are three main criteria, Vernon said, for the tax credit donations to be used. The money has to be used for an extracurricular activity, which includes things like field trips. Participating students must be charged for that activity. And the activity must be open to all students.

"Overall, the bulk has been going into art and music," Vernon said. "Between art and music, we haven’t had a program to fit those criteria. There’s no avenue for us to spend those funds."

Locals have contributed $1,775 designated for the elementary art program, including $1,175 during the 1999-2000 year alone. Elementary music has been designated to receive $2,075. At the high-school level, art has $487.15 in its budget and music has $400.

The high-school art program did dip into its tax credit funds on two occasions during the 1998-99 school year, the first year of the tax credit existed. The money was used to purchase art supplies for students who had paid a participation fee.

High school athletics has spent more tax credit fund money than any other category over the past three years. Actually, the fund was used only three times, but $3,062.20 was spent in one shot when the school purchased new basketball uniforms last year.

Those donating to the school have designated only $725 to middle-school athletics since 1998. After a purchase in 1999-2000 for some low-cost basketball uniforms, the fund has only $231.90 left.

Money cannot be transferred between funds. The donations have to be used for activities designated by the taxpayers. For donations which did not include any designations on how to spend the money, financial assistant Bruce Smith said he put those funds down for high-school athletics.

Just recently, parents were urging the school to spend money on new uniforms for the middle-school soccer team. The kids have been wearing hand-me-down uniforms formerly used by the high school.

In an effort to raise money for the uniforms, bake sales were organized. Those bake sales raised $235, Yost said, which is at least a few hundred dollars short of what would be needed.

For now, Yost cannot touch the funds in the tax credit account because middle-school soccer does not fit the extracurricular activity criteria since a fee is not charged to participants.

"The middle school touching that money is iffy," Vernon said. "They need to start charging the $1 fee for the next season."

Vernon’s reference to a $1 fee goes back to a recent school board decision in which the practice of charging at least a $1 extracurricular activity fee was approved.

The middle-school may implement the fee with girls basketball and it could be in the area of $10 per student to raise adequate funds for the already-tight budget. No final decision has been made.

Even if the middle-school sports fund could be used, Yost said there are other factors involved with the soccer uniform situation.

"I’ve been waiting for Ken (Olsen) to decide if they want new uniforms or not," he said. "Why waste the money if we can get uniforms by default?"

That is, the middle school could use the high-school’s current old uniforms when the elder Phantoms get new ones next year.

"To go out and spend $2,000 on middle school when they only play four weeks a year is a lot of money," Olsen said. "The plan is to buy the high school new uniforms next year."

Yost must use money available to middle-school sports for things like referees and scorekeepers. Although middle-school refs make about one-third of that of a high-school ref, it’s still a pretty good amount through the course of a season.

Yost said the soccer players haven’t been turned off by the uniforms they wore this season.

"They’ve been playing in faded jerseys but they like playing in them," Yost said. "The kids love them. They have that nostalgic quality."

Some players use equipment they purchased through the summer youth soccer program. Middle-school athletics do not have the same rules for uniforms compared to the high school. For example, there is no governing body forcing different uniforms for home and away games.

Any decision on uniforms will be for this season. The middle-school soccer season will end this Saturday with the I-40 Tournament.

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