Districts urged to be conservative in budgets - East Valley Tribune: News

Districts urged to be conservative in budgets

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Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 6:16 pm | Updated: 2:49 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The leader of the Arizona School Boards Association sent a letter to school district governing boards Monday urging them to be conservative in planning budgets as they prepare for next school year.

Panfilo Contreras, association executive director, noted the $3.3 billion deficit Arizona is facing for the next budget year which begins July 1.

"We know that many districts are already facing cuts to their funding" with anticipated decline in money from the education sales-tax approved in 2000, declining enrollment and loss of funding for utilities, Contreras said.

Arizona school districts have until April 15 to notify teachers and other certified employees if they will be out of work next school year. In addition, contracts for certified employees must be issued by May 15. Legislative action to change that to June 15 failed to garner enough votes.

Some school districts are already taking action - and expecting the worst. In late March, the Apache Junction Unified School District's governing board approved a reduction in force list that included 49 teachers or 13 percent of the staff.

In early February, the Mesa Unified School District sent letters to those staff members on a one-year contract reminding them that their employment is not guaranteed year-to-year. The district also said as many as 440 certified positions may be eliminated, depending on the outcome of the state's budget.

Reduction-in-force notices fulfill the state requirement to notify teachers their jobs are being cut. Mesa's governing board has not approved any notices.

"I've never seen a time of so much uncertainty for us," said Janice Ramirez, assistant superintendent for human resources in the Mesa district for 21 years. "Last year the Legislature didn't finish until the third week of July. Anything we hear (about a timeline), it may be at least that way again. Until they make their next decisions, we're held hostage."

Because of the required state deadline, "We may be 'riffing' a higher number of teachers than we have to down the line because we have to play it safe," Ramirez said.

Mesa expects a 2,000-student decline next year. With some of the state budget proposals floated, the district expects to cut between $30 million and $60 million for next year.

In a public letter, Dave Allison, superintendent of the Gilbert Unified School District, said the district may have to cut $13 million to $16 million for next year. That's on top of the $4.7 million the district had to cut mid-year.

Chandler Unified School District is in an different situation because it's still growing, with as many as 1,000 new students expected next year. The district also has contingency funds. The district's superintendent, Camille Casteel, said the district will not be laying off teachers.

Billions of dollars have been earmarked nationwide for education from the federal stimulus package. But weeks after its approval, school district officials say they still don't know what to expect from it.

"What everyone is waiting for right now is ... what the actual impact is on the federal stimulus package, the state portion of that as well as what can happen with school districts," said Gilbert Unified's Clyde Dangerfield. "Everything is in a state of flux right now."

Gilbert is moving forward like other districts with plans in light of the April 15 deadline, said Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for finance. In the next two weeks, the governing board will be asked to make more "broad stroke" decisions about jobs and programs, he said, than the district had hoped for.

The latest state budget proposal from some lawmakers at the Capitol, released last week and published on the Arizona School Boards Association's Web site, includes a 5 percent of basic state aid to schools. That would cut $257 million from Arizona's schools. Other suggestions include eliminating early kindergarten ($11.2 million), phasing out incentive pay to teachers in some districts ($3.87 million next year) and eliminating the early graduation scholarship program ($4.68 million).

Charter schools would see a lump-sum reduction of $7.5 million.

Few districts will be left untouched.

"The current info coming out of the Legislature is devastating to public schools and would have a serious impact on people and programs," Dangerfield said.

State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne tried to calm the storm Tuesday. He asked districts not to "overreact" on layoff notices.

"There are still a lot of uncertainties and estimates are dangerous," Horne said. "However, some school districts have overreacted, and are planning to send out notices for layoffs of teachers based on assumed 60 percent budget cuts, which are way out of proportion to anything that can be reasonably anticipated. These excessive layoff notices can create unnecessary panic and consternation, and can adversely affect the quality of education by damaging the morale of teachers who, in the final analysis, would not lose their jobs. It is therefore important, that even though there is uncertainty, the schools have an idea of the proportion of cuts to be anticipated."

Because of the required state deadline, “We may be ‘riffing’ a higher number of teachers than we have to down the line because we have to play it safe,” Ramirez said.

Mesa expects a 2,000-student decline next year. With some of the state budget proposals out there, the district expects to cut between $30 million and $60 million for next year.

In a public letter, Dave Allison, superintendent of the Gilbert Unified School District, said the district may have to cut $13 million to $16 million out of next year’s budget. That’s on top of the $4.7 million the district had to cut mid year.

Chandler Unified School District is in a bit of a different situation because it’s still a growing district, with as many as 1,000 new students expected next year. The district also has some contingency funds available if it needs to use them. The district’s superintendent, Camille Casteel, said the district will not be laying off teachers.

Billions of dollars have been earmarked nationwide for education from the federal stimulus package. But weeks after its approval, school districts say they still don’t know what to expect from it.

“What everyone is waiting for right now is ... what the actual impact is on the federal stimulus package, the state portion of that as well as what can happen with school districts,” said Gilbert Unified’s Clyde Dangerfield. “Everything is in a state of flux right now.”

Gilbert is moving forward like other districts with plans in light of the April 15 deadline, Dangerfield said. In the next two weeks, the governing board will be asked to make more “broad stroke” decisions about jobs and programs, he said, than the district had hoped for.

The latest state budget proposal from some lawmakers at the state Capitol, released last week and published on the Arizona School Boards Association’s Web site, includes an across-the-board reduction of 5 percent of basic state aid to schools. That alone would cut $257 million from Arizona’s schools. Other suggestions include eliminating early kindergarten funding ($11.2 million), phasing out a program that offers incentive pay to teachers in some districts ($3.87 million next year) and eliminating the early graduation scholarship program ($4.68 million).

Charter schools would see a lump-sum reduction of $7.5 million in that same plan.

Few districts will be left untouched.

“The current info coming out of the Legislature is devastating to public schools and would have a serious impact on people and programs,” Dangerfield said.

State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne tried to calm the storm on Tuesday. He asked districts not to “overreact” when it comes to layoff notices.

“There are still a lot of uncertainties, and estimates are dangerous,” Horne said. “However, some school districts have overreacted, and are planning to send out notices for layoffs of teachers based on assumed 60 percent budget cuts, which are way out of proportion to anything that can be reasonably anticipated. These excessive layoff notices can create unnecessary panic and consternation, and can adversely affect the quality of education by damaging the morale of teachers who, in the final analysis, would not lose their jobs. It is therefore important, that even though there is uncertainty, the schools have an idea of the proportion of cuts to be anticipated.”

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