Cash can mean field trips, music classes, arts
Pima County schools labeled “excelling” by the state get an average of four times the amount of tax credit donations as schools labeled “failing.”
The disparity remains true when comparing schools that have the fewest children on free and reduced lunches to those that have the most.
“Excelling” schools in Pima County – a label based on academic achievement, attendance and other criteria – received almost $80 per student in tax credit money for 2007. For “highly performing” schools, the next highest ranking, it’s more than $64.
For students in a “failing” school, the average tax credit money was under $20.
Whether there is a direct correlation between the amount of money received and the high academic achievement at a school is unknown.
But an obvious fact remains: The students in schools receiving larger amounts of tax credit donations have more opportunities for field trips, enrichment programs, physical education, arts and music classes and after-school sports and clubs – activities that get students excited about coming to school and learning.
It’s not too late for this year, regardless of where you want your tax credit donations to go. The deadline is Dec. 31.
More than a quarter of a million dollars out of the total of nearly $2.8 million donated to Tucson Unified School District was received in the last two days of last year, said David Scott, director of accountability and research.
Individuals may donate up to $200; married couples filing taxes jointly may donate up to $400. Educators point out that any donation up to those limits is allowed. Even $20 will help, they say.
Donors may specify what school, program and even student, in some cases, they want their money to help.
A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in a person’s Arizona income tax liability. For example, if you owe $600 in state income taxes and make a $200 donation, you will owe the state $400 instead of $600.
If you don’t have a tax liability, or it is less than the tax credit, the unused amount may be carried over for up to five years.
Some parents, especially those with children in low-income area schools, don’t earn enough to pay taxes so the tax credit wouldn’t help them, Scott said.
For those who will pay taxes, he said, “Why not choose to spend that money at a school instead of sending it to Phoenix and letting the legislators decide how to spend it?”
Tax credit money can send a band to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or a dance line to the national championships.
At Maldonado Elementary School in Tucson Unified, donations would go to the lofty goal of taking students to Sabino Canyon to study the Sonoran Desert or retaining the part-time physical education teacher.
Even that may be just a dream.
Maldonado, on the far West Side, which is neither failing nor excelling by state standards, received $9.04 per student based on its tax credit donations in 2007, the lowest percentage in TUSD.
“We need at least $10,000 to $12,000 in tax credit donations a year to keep the PE program running,” said Principal Mary Mercado.
She said she might have to let the physical education teacher go in March unless the school gets more tax credit donations.
In the half-hour-a-week class for 26 classes, PE teacher Ernesto Cañez “uses what limited resources we have to have lessons focused on physical activity as well as educational classes focused on good eating habits and safety issues,” Mercado said.
The principal said she wishes she could expand the program.
“In the past, other TUSD schools have been so kind as to loan us equipment for special days planned such as field day, where students rotate from station to station participating in various activities such as timed jump rope, tricycles race, and potato sack race.”
Some schools in other districts use tax credit money to buy dozens of roller blades or set up a climbing wall or fitness center. Mercado said more equipment would be great, but “the kids are so positive. They try to make anything fun.”
Wednesday they played with plastic jai alai equipment and jump ropes and they seemed to enjoy themselves.
Maybe that was because they are aware of the dire PE situation at the school.
“We want to keep PE because it keeps us healthy and we get our energy out so we can pay attention when we go back to class,” fifth-grader Samantha Whitewater, 10, said.
“Mr. Cañez gives us ways to stay fit,” classmate Miguel Andrade, 10, said.
“That’s important because kids, when they get home, mostly play video games or watch TV,” said 11-year-old Carolina Medina, a fifth-grader.
She wished the school had enough tax credit money to allow field trips.
“They could be educational and they would be an experience we wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.
Scott said he feels for Maldonado and others at West Side schools, because those schools often receive the least in donations.
TUSD has fliers that promote tax credits, but it really can’t specify schools, he said.
“It is the responsibility of the school to communicate their needs,” he said.
Maldonado certainly has done that. The school staff created its own flier and sent one home to each family. “I even sent one to my sister’s architecture company,” Mercado said.
Indeed, teachers often try to get family members and friends to earmark their tax credit donations to their school and they hope parents of students do the same.
“Some people may think that Title I (low-income) schools are so flush with money that they don’t need tax credit money, but that’s not true,” Scott said, adding that federal Title I dollars often go for more pressing needs than are covered by tax credit funds.
Mercado said that’s the case at her school, where Title I funds go toward teacher salaries “to lower classroom size.” She said there aren’t any funds left over for other things.
Schools that received the smallest amounts of state tax credit donations in 2007:
Sierra Middle School, 5801 S. del Moral Blvd., $3,600
Craycroft Elementary School, 5455 E. Littletown Road, $4,100
Rivera Elementary School, 5102 S. Cherry Ave., $4,150
Warren Elementary School, 3505 W. Milton Road, $4,200
Maldonado Elementary School, 3535 W. Messala Way, $4,800
Cavett Elementary School, 2120 E. Naco Vista Drive, $5,100
Hendricks Elementary School, 3400 W. Orange Grove Road, $4,200
Centennial Elementary, 2200 W. Wetmore Road, $6,550
Richardson Elementary School, 6901 N. Camino De La Tierra, $9,150
Thornydale Elementary School, 7651 N. Oldfather Drive, $6,667
Desert Winds Elementary, 12675 W. Rudasill Road, $9,425
Quail Run Elementary School, 4600 W. Cortaro Farms Road, $9,530
Senita Valley Elementary School, 10750 E. Bilby Road, $3,500
Mesquite Elementary School, 9455 E. Rita Ranch Road, $10,623
Corona Foothills Middle School, 16705 S. Houghton Road, $14,032
Mesa Verde Elementary School, 1661 W. Sage St., $12,105
Rio Vista Elementary School, 1351 E. Limberlost Road, $13,415
Holaway Elementary School, 3500 N. Cherry Ave., $14,167
Sahuarita Primary School, 350 W. Sahuarita Road, $6,800
Sahuarita Intermediate School, 350 W. Sahuarita Road, $7,283
Anza Trail School, 15490 S. Rancho Sahuarita Blvd., $13,280
WHERE TO DONATE
Donations may be made at individual schools, which will be closed within a week for winter break. But district offices still will be open. And donations also may be made at most district Web sites.
• Tucson Unified School District, 1010 E. 10th St., 85719 or www.tusd1.org
• Amphitheater Public Schools, 701 W. Wetmore Road, 85705 or www.amphi.com
• Flowing Wells Unified School District, 1556 W. Prince Road, 85705 or www.flowingwellsschools.org
• Sunnyside Unified School District, 2238 E. Ginter Road, 85706 or www.sunnysideud.k12.az.us
• Marana Unified School District, 11279 W. Grier Road, Marana, 85653 or www.maranausd.org
• Vail Unified School District, 13801 E. Benson Highway, Vail, Arizona, 85641 or www.vail.k12.az.us
Note: Do not make donations to districts; an individual school must be named.
By Mary Bustamante, Eric Sagara