Pusd: Loses $2 Million, Raises Rates

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The projected Payson Unified School District (PUSD) Maintenance and Operation (M&O) budget for 2013-14 calls for a slight 2 percent drop — not bad, considering the district has lost 4 percent of its student body.

To help reach its budget goals, the district cut 14 full-time staff members.

“The staffing model, focused on student achievement and tied to student enrollment, has been partially implemented,” said Kathie Manning, PUSD business manager. “Full implementation is anticipated in 2014-15.”

The district will cut an additional 16 full-time employees by next year.

Despite those cuts, the district will

spend 50 percent of its $13.8 million M&O budget on classroom expenses.

However property owners in the PUSD district should brace for an 8.5 percent jump in the tax rates. Even so, some residents might see their tax bills go down because of declining assessment values.

“Assessed values overall in our area decreased by approximately 6 to 7 percent,” she said.

The state essentially dictates the maximum school property tax rates, which provides the bulk of school funding. Rural districts like Payson also get “equalization” money to compensate for low property values compared to urban areas.

For the 2012-13 school year, local property owners provided approximately $12 million of the $17 million the district spent in all its funds.

This year, the state increased base funding by almost 2 percent, but then cut other programs, leaving things just about back where they started, said Manning. That includes a 1 percent cut resulting from the near elimination of Career Ladder, which gives teachers bonuses for years of service, increased training and certification.

The district also shifted money to K-3 reading programs to cope with new state rules that will require the schools to hold back any third-grader who can’t read well enough.

Manning said the district can use federal funds to pay for several new positions — Student Achievement Teachers charged with helping boost district test scores. Federal Title 1 funds will also pay for the return of all-day kindergarten.

Overall, the district will have $2 million less to spend, mostly as a result of the phase out of state and federal grants. The $14 million M&O budget will decline by just 2 percent.

One of the biggest hits comes with the ending of a $1.4 million federal PEP grant, which enabled the district to expand physical education programs.

“A large portion of the (PEP) grant funded equipment and capital items for P.E.,” said Manning.

Improvements included the adventure course at the high school and the Dance-Dance Revolution equipment at Julia Randall Elementary.

Losing the grant has already affected staffing. “There was one P.E. teacher split between JRE and PES that was funded from the PEP grant,” said Manning, “That position was eliminated.”

The district also faces the possible loss of the $350,000 in federal forest fees intended to make up for the huge amount of non-taxable federal land in the district. Manning said federal officials think Congress may end the program permanently. The district is using the remaining $151,000 in forest fees from last year for increased coaches salaries. But next year, coaches will have to fund-raise for their salaries.

The district must also absorb a 10 percent cut in federal funding due to the automatic sequestration cuts after Democrats and Republicans deadlocked.

This year, the state also decided to decrease the capital budget for schools. To soften the blow of its cut to capital budgets to smaller districts, the state took money from districts above 1,100 students (PUSD has 2,382 students).

“This increased the capital cut to the districts that had 1,100 students or more to make up for the decrease to the other districts,” said Manning.

PUSD will still embark on a five-year technology improvement plan by allocating $250,000 of its diminished capital funds to the improving technology.

On the other hand, some of the cuts didn’t hurt at all. For instance, the district used a grant this year to replace the roof on the old gym at the high school. The grant is done and the budget’s down as a result, but that won’t affect ongoing programs.

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