Schools Told To Expect 10-15% Cuts

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Amid a $1.5-billion state deficit, school districts across the state should start making plans now to cut their 2010 budgets by at least 10 to 15 percent.

This was the message the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) gave to Gila County school districts in a meeting at the Pine-Strawberry School.

“The budget you passed is not going to work,” said Janice Palmer, ASBA director of governmental relations. “Don’t wait for the legislature. They are not going to ride in on a white horse” to fix your budget problems.

Palmer encouraged districts to look at alternative ways to lower costs including utilizing changes the governor signed into law under the K-12 budget bill, tapping into the Investing in Innovation fund and teacher incentive funds.

In it, districts no longer have a deadline for extending teacher contracts or giving notice of pay cuts. Additionally, senior teachers are not given retention priority over less experienced teachers and a tenured teacher’s salary can be reduced without affecting all tenured teachers’ salaries.

Lastly, it decreases the time teachers have to file for a hearing following their firing or suspension from 30 days to 10 days.

These changes will give districts flexibility to hire and fire as needed.

Palmer said the legislature made these changes to help take some of the burden off struggling districts.

With the state deficit expected to swell to $3.5 billion by 2011, Palmer said Arizona’s recovery from the recession will likely lag behind the rest of the country.

She pointed out that in August, sales tax collections were down 12 percent from the same time last year and are up one-and-half percent from July. Arizona ranks No. 2 behind Michigan in year-over-year job losses in August and unemployment is up to 9.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So with so much gloom and doom on the horizon it is no surprise that the largest item in the state’s budget, the $4.1 billion K-12 budget, would face cuts.

Compound this with the fact that Arizona has spent 100 percent of the money it received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

ASBA president-elect Bob Rice explained to district leaders that the current budget crisis is temporary.

“I don’t think we should get depressed,” he said. “Things will get better.”

Under the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Palmer said the state has already received $557 million in funding, most of which went to colleges, and another $275 million has been earmarked.

The state is also competing for its share of $4.35 billion in the Race to the Top program started by the Obama administration. The fund is designed to reward states improving education quality.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave Arizona up to $250,000 to help prepare applications for fund grants. Phase one winners will be announced in March 2010.

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