By now, just about everyone knows that on May 18 there is a special election to consider raising the state sales tax by 1 cent for each of the next three years. What you may not know is how this initiative will, pass or fail, impact Payson Unified School District.
In March, the Legislature gave approval, at Governor Brewer’s request, to put a temporary 1 cent sales tax increase measure before the voters. Shortly thereafter, and really as part of the approval on the sales tax initiative, the Legislature approved a budget for 2010-11. This budget reduces education funding. Also, this budget technically assumes dollars from Proposition 100 will be there to fund the expenditure obligations. In other words, passage of Proposition 100 does not bring new revenue to schools and state agencies, but rather maintains the status quo of the adopted budget.
So, what happens to state agencies, schools and specifically PUSD if Prop. 100 fails? The Legislature put in place what could be called budget triggers that direct budget cuts to go into effect. How much? Well, approximately $900 million overall. For K-12 education funding would be cut by approximately $430 million. That impact to Payson will be $1.3 million dollars.
For each of the last two years, the district has had to adjust and then readjust our budgets, based on funding reductions imposed by the Legislature. In 2009-10 we reduced our budget by $1.3 million. With the phasing out of the override and additional budget reductions by the state, we went into planning for the 2010-11 year anticipating another round of significant cuts. Fortunately, in March voters approved the 10 percent override. Unfortunately, due to continued reductions in funding and a significant increase in insurance premiums, we still had a $1.2 million dollar shortfall to address. To be clear, this shortfall was not due to any errors or misjudgments on our part, but was created by legislative-driven and inflationary factors outside of our control. Subsequently, we made the difficult program and personnel reductions to balance our budget and keep the district solvent for next year.
If Prop. 100 passes, we can move forward, anticipating no need for further reductions this school year and the district is positioned well to maintain programs, sustain lower class sizes and operate with increased administrative efficiency. If however, it fails, PUSD, like nearly every other school district in Arizona, will have no choice but to make very significant cuts. Again, this is about $1.3 million for PUSD. Also, as these decreases are to our primary source of funding, we must make reductions anticipating that they are for the long-term. Per-pupil funding will be close to 2005 levels. It would be unrealistic to think we can just bounce back in one or two years.
What would cuts of this magnitude look like? This amount of money equates to 25 teaching positions. Certainly not all reductions would come from the classroom, but a significant impact would be inevitable. We will have to give strong consideration to closing Frontier Elementary School and dividing these 380 students and staff between Julia Randall and Payson Elementary Schools. The staffing levels at JRE and PES would stay the same as they are now, so additional teacher and staff layoffs would most probably occur and class sizes would go up significantly. Physical education and music education could either be eliminated or drastically reduced. Rim Country Middle School would also see increases in class sizes and reductions in programs. The same would occur at Payson High School. Many more layoffs would occur to accomplish the restructuring that would likely have to take place. Lastly, there will not be any money for textbooks and computers with limited funds for basic supplies.
Of course the exact measures taken would be determined by the governing board and feedback would be actively sought, but a budget reduction of this magnitude is not achievable via fine tuning operations. It would also not be prudent to take measures that are unsustainable over a long term. This is because these cuts will likely be several years in place prior to a slow recovery. We will change from strategically downsizing our district to strategically restructuring it, first, to simply ensure we keep our doors open and secondly, to set a foundation to rebuild when funding eventually starts to improve.
Please understand that I am not writing to influence you on how to vote. I am simply trying to frankly share with you the budget realities we face, relative to either outcome, in hopes that you understand the ramifications of Prop. 100 for PUSD.
Our district, despite some significant and painful reductions, is in a position to sustain the momentum our great teachers and staff have put into place. If Prop. 100 passes, while we will be lean, I believe we will maintain forward momentum. If Prop. 100 fails, our schools and district will look very different than they do now. At best, the achievement outcomes for our students will not be something I can, with any certainty, predict.