Camille Casteel

Camille Casteel

East Valley superintendents are speaking out against proposed funding cuts they say will have severe negative ramifications to their budgets, with one district has facing opposition for its criticism.

Superintendents at the Kyrene School District, Gilbert Public Schools, Mesa Public Schools, Tempe Union High School District and Chandler Unified School District have written letters to parents outlining Gov. Doug Ducey’s 2015-16 fiscal-year budget proposal. The proposal includes $159.6 million in classroom funding for the next school year.

Districts, however, contend that total is misleading because the budget proposal also comes with a $113.5 million reduction in school administrative funding. In an email statement, Helen Hollands, Mesa Public Schools’ director of communications and marketing, said the end result is an $8.5 million budget cut.

“Critical support services for our students and teachers in the classroom will be diminished,” she said.

The district has since provided parents information about the budget proposal’s repercussions — the website has a short, animated video explaining what the budget means for it — and Superintendent Dr. Michael Cowan sent parents a letter asking them to contact Ducey and their respective legislator.

Cowan’s statements resulted in several robocalls sent on Feb. 21 to Mesa residents from American Encore, a conservative political organization that donated just shy of $1.5 million to Ducey’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

The message was similar to a blog post the organization has on its website that claims that almost two-thirds of the funding the district receives does not go to the classroom, which it states is a, “major departure from national standards and is unacceptable for Arizona students.” The message requests people contact Cowan to, “tell him that taxpayer dollars for schools belong in the classroom (sic), not the pockets of special interests.”

Hollands said the district received, “a limited number of inquiries due to the automated telephone calls that the community.”

An attempt to reach American Encore for comment and ask where the organization found the statistic was not returned, although a report released on Feb. 27 by the Arizona Office of the Auditor General states approximately 57 percent of the district’s money went to instructional use in 2014. Classroom spending for that year was above the state average, while administrative costs fell below the state mark.

Cowan isn’t alone with his request for parents to contact their legislators, with the superintendents from neighboring districts releasing letters to their parents as well. At Chandler Unified, Superintendent Dr. Camille Casteel states in her letter the district expects to lose approximately $6 million from Ducey’s budget that encompass positions that directly serve students.

“These funds pay for school nurses, bus drivers, mechanics, principals, cafeteria workers, crossing guards, secretaries, air conditioning/heating technicians and custodians,” she wrote.

For Gilbert Public Schools, Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto wrote the district anticipates a $2 million reduction to its budget due to Ducey’s proposal.

That cut, which comes on top of an estimated $8 million cut the district already has, could result in school consolidation and closure, staff cuts, or an end to all-day kindergarten.

Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Baca wrote in his letter to parents the district would slice off an additional $1.9 million, while Kyrene Superintendent Dr. David Schaeur expects another $1.2 million in cuts.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5647 or Follow him on Twitter at @EricMungenast


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