WASHINGTON - Arizona school districts cut more than 10,000 employees - including 6,640 instructors - from March 2009 to March 2010, according to new data from the U.S.. Census Bureau.
School jobs were the largest part of 13,688 positions cut by local governments, which reduced overall employment by 5 percent in that year. The surge in local job cuts came as Arizona state government payroll reductions slowed from 6.4 percent of all jobs in 2009 to less than 1 percent in 2010.
Overall, state and local governments have shed just under 30,000 employees from 2008 to 2010, the data shows.
"There is nowhere left to cut," said Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, who attributed the 7.2 percent drop in school jobs on state budget reductions. "I want a legislator to tell me a dollar amount that we need to meet. The annual answer is ‘less.'"
But Arizona Department of Education spokesman Andrew LeFevre said a decrease in student enrollment is at least partly responsible for the drop in funding and school jobs. Arizona had 49,511 fewer students in 2011 than in 2008, data from the department's website shows.
"If schools are losing students, teacher numbers aren't going to go up," LeFevre said.
In smaller communities, the loss of just a few teachers can sharply increase class sizes, even though enrollment has decreased. Michael Robison, superintendent of the Littlefield Unified School District, said class sizes have gone from 23 to 25 students a few years ago to more than 30 students in the district's elementary and middle school today.
Littlefield, a town near Interstate 15 in Arizona's northwest corner, reduced its teacher ranks to 32 from 35 last year, and that number could dip below 30 by next year, Robison said.
"When you spend 80 percent of your budget on salaries and benefits, the only place you can make cuts is in personnel," he said.
Littlefield expects its $2.8 million budget to shrink by about $300,000 next year, he said, and that means letting more staff go.
"I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel in terms of us having additional resources to help children," Robison said.
Madison Elementary School District, which uses state funding for about two-thirds of its budget, cut nurses, teachers and its gifted director in 2010, among other positions. It also tightened restrictions on overtime and reduced the number of days substitute teachers could be used.
"Just because a position isn't there, those duties don't go away," said Kristen Landry, the district's spokeswoman. "Everything still got done, just not on the timetable people are accustomed to."
Local governments, meanwhile, have "reached a point where we can't have a reduction of force without seriously affecting services," said Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
In many cities, lesser-used programs like building permitting, are down to minimum staffing and will have to find other ways to save costs, such as four-day workweeks, if revenue remains insufficient, he said.
Many municipalities also rely on funds funneled through the state, Strobeck said, and small communities in Arizona have seen state money make up 60 percent of their budgets.
A revised set of the census data is scheduled for release in December. But officials in Arizona said they believe the job-cutting has leveled off since March 2010, the last date for which numbers are available.
For the Madison schools, that means they have hired 94 new workers this year, Landry said. For local governments, Strobeck said, the situation has to get better because it can't get any worse.
"Hopefully, we've hit the bottom," he said.
Joshua Armstrong is a reporter with Cronkite News Service.