Putting A Bull’S-Eye On Payson Schools’ Budget

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Casey O'Brien

For the last two fiscal years, developing a school district budget with recommendations for Payson Unified School District’s Governing Board has been an exercise in hitting a moving target. As a Navy pilot, I got pretty good at delivering ordinance on practice targets that were fixed. Trying to get close to something on wheels was a whole different challenge. The actions and/or inactions of our state government are reminiscent of my old flying days. Those were practice targets though and our budget has real consequences for our students.

On Tuesday, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) provided the Arizona Legislature with budget options for fiscal year 2010-11. This document will be used with the governor’s proposed budget as a means to begin the negotiations for a final budget bill. What these two sources do for school districts is provide enough information to have a fairly good idea of where we are going and what the implications are for education. The target is not yet fixed, but it’s moving in a fairly narrow range.

Here is what we are now looking at for next year’s budget for PUSD. Projected revenue losses based on state cuts will impact the district significantly. If voters pass the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Budget Override on March 9, we will be looking at a $1 million shortfall. Our projection is actually a little larger, but I am using rounded numbers. If the budget override fails, then our shortfall will be $1.7 million for next school year. Also, with the loss of the override, we would need to reduce our budget for 2011-12 by an additional $405,000.

How will personnel be impacted? Approximately 85 percent of M&O is personnel. It is too early in the budget process to say what will happen exactly, but I can give you potential reductions that do reflect the projected budget cuts. If the budget override passes, we could see the elimination of nine non-classroom positions and five classroom positions (teachers). We would also no longer subsidize our extracurricular programs; rather impose student fees to cover those related costs.

If the budget override fails, we would look to eliminate 10 non-classroom positions and 16 classroom (teaching) positions. Fees, of course, would no longer be subsidized. In both cases, projections are based on no increases in pay or benefits.

What are non-classroom positions? They are our administrators, councilors, nurses, librarians, clerical staff, classroom support staff, bus drivers and maintenance. Non-classroom does not mean non-essential. Our non-classroom spending is below the average for our district peers. These are cuts that, in either override scenario, will have a definite negative impact to our district.

There will also be cuts to our capital budgets. These are the dollars designated by the Legislature to fund the purchase of technology, textbooks and workbooks. That reduction will be 80 percent which equates to $500,000. This cut is independent of the override outcome. Obviously, a reduction of this magnitude will significantly impact the purchase of textbooks and technology for students. This will be the third consecutive year that the Legislature has cut our capital allocations, and frankly, we are now struggling to just meet essential needs.

School district superintendents may not use their position to influence the outcome of bond or override elections. It is my obligation, however, to provide voters with timely and accurate information. This I have endeavored to do. It is now up to you to make the decision on the level of funding you want for our schools.

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