The Pine-Strawberry School Board has agreed on the cuts needed to correct a 2005-2006 budget shortfall expected to reach more than $60,000.
In making the cuts, school principal and superintendent Kathe Ketchem said the board members, "looked at every possible option, took in a lot of information and made the decisions that were best for the children."
School board member Jessica Barnett agreed, saying the budget cuts were tough to make but the members were united in their final decision.
The cuts include:
- Combining grades two and three to create one multi-age classroom.
- Eliminating the part-time librarian position.
- Reducing music, band and computer to one part-time position for all three programs.
The changes will not affect any of this year's academic or extracurricular programs.
The most controversial of the cuts could be the one that will reduce the music and band programs. The school has built a reputation for producing topnotch young musicians who eventually become some of Payson High School's best fine arts students.
According to Ketchem, the budget cuts were necessary because of declining enrollment and increased retirement and employee health insurance costs.
The school's average daily membership has declined to 133 from last year's count of 154.
Since 1996, enrollment has declined 120 students.
"At a revenue of approximately $2,999 per student, this is a loss of about $348,000 since 1996," Ketchem said.
Also, the Arizona State Retirement system increased the fees it charges teachers and school districts for the second consecutive year.
Compounding the problem was an increase in costs the school pays the health care provider of its employees, Ketchem said.
The declining state revenue and increased costs have also resulted in both certified and classified staff members not receiving a salary increase for the past three years.
In a letter mailed March 15 to all parents in the school district, board members wrote the "Teacher salaries are $6,000 less that Payson School District.
"This salary discrepancy makes it difficult to attract, recruit and keep qualified teachers."
In the parent letter, the board also attempts to explain the state's complicated school financing formula and takes a jab at legislators.
"Unfortunately, the state of Arizona does not fund or support education fully," the board wrote. "State mandates are not followed with funding dollars, and communities across the state are being asked to help districts in the way of budget overrides."
The Payson Unified School District had to go to the voters last year for a budget override. It passed overwhelmingly.
In further correcting its budget woes, Pine has the option of seeking a budget override or receiving some help by consolidating with PUSD.
Consolidation has been mulled over in the past, but never discussed formally.