Economic conditions continue to worry Kyrene School District planners, but at least one glimmer of hope has buoyed their optimism.
Dr. David Schauer addressed parents and community groups at a pair of meetings, May 6 and 11, on budget issues that possibly will face the district in the 2009-10 school year.
“We are losing state funding because the money is just not there. Arizona is a tourist and retirement state that suffers from low property taxes, and because of that the schools get the short end of the stick. Education is 43 percent of the state budget yet it seems like we still need more money,” Schauer said.
“I feel like relief is on the horizon, however. The federal government and the new (Obama) administration are putting a bigger focus on education which should help in the next few years.”
Expecting anywhere from a $6.4 million to $13 million decrease, the district is preparing for budget cuts as well as how they plan on handling any such shortfalls.
“The last thing I want to do is lay off teachers,” said Schauer. He cautioned, however:
“Since 88 percent of our budget is teacher salaries’ it is hard not to decrease them. Unfortunately we have had to lay 68 teachers off.”
With an estimated enrollment decline and budget shrinkage coming from the state legislature, the district has mapped plans for certain situations. The preparation of these numerous plans is because the state legislature has yet to release their budget for education.
“What makes this difficult is the state has not given us our budget,” said Karin Smith, the district’s director of business services.
“Until we receive our actual numbers, this is all just speculation.”
The district and the state’s schools are funded in many different and complicated ways, he said. The biggest area is from taxes and bonds that are voted on during elections. Along with these numerous funding sources come laws on how the money can be spent.
“One thing I do not think a lot of parents understand is the regulations (involving) school money,” Smith said.
“We have to follow state laws and rules on which money can be spent where. This is why some things can possibly be over funded and others are under-funded.”
Meanwhile, Smith noted, expenses are going up while population of the district schools goes down is for several reasons.
Maintenance and Operations (M&O) money is being cut from the state budget, Prop. 301 funding is being reduced by 38 percent, and the cost of utilities is going up.
These factors all make the budget feel tighter and tighter, she said.
With the district facing hard financial times, the superintendent said he still feels like the Kyrene District remains a very good district.
“Even though our budget is getting smaller, I want to assure parents that the quality of education their child is receiving is not,” Schauer said.
“Our training and support programs allow us to keep highly qualified teachers in the classrooms.”
The responsibility has seemed to fall to parents and community members who want to see change. The district encourages parents and community members to visit the district website, www.kyrene.org, for more information and to get involved. Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome.
“Parents need to call their representatives, vote for more money to go to schools and to put pressure upon the decision makers,” Schauer said.
“We ask for all the support we can get and hope someone listens.”