The economic downturn has resulted in Arizona reducing public-education funding. Prior to what is being called the Great Recession, funding levels in Arizona were already low when compared to the nation at large. Therefore, these state-wide reductions have caused greater hardship to schools that were already struggling financially.
What does this mean specifically for the Kyrene Elementary School District? The biggest part of the budget called Maintenance and Operations (M&O) has gone from approximately $107 million to $96 million (prediction for 2011-12), which is a 10 percent decrease in just three years! While other school districts have closed schools or eliminated “special programs,” (art, music, physical education, library programs, etc.) imposed salary reductions or furloughs, Kyrene has been able to avoid those kinds of devastating decisions. How has that been possible?
No pay increases for employees: Wages have been frozen for the past two years, and even though salary reductions were not imposed, many staff members have seen their take-home pay decrease because of increased costs for retirement and health care as well as additional funding reductions that specifically impact teachers.
Conservative use of cash reserves: Conservative fiscal planning over the past 15-20 years has resulted in a “savings” account (reserves) that can be used to offset funding decreases to balance the budget. The Administration and Governing Board wisely developed a reserves policy that calls for portioning this out over a number of years instead of using it all at once.
Layoffs of some teachers due to slight increases in class size: Since 90 percent of our budget is used to pay for employees and items that directly affect students in the classroom (teachers, librarians, special ed teachers, bus drivers) the only way to cut millions is by decreasing the number of people we employ. Class sizes in Kyrene were already low when compared to other school districts and the adjustments that have been made still result in class sizes that are similar or lower than most.
Community support to levy additional funds through the support of bond and override elections: Thankfully the Kyrene community understands that education is an investment. Our bonds and overrides allow us to maintain safe and secure campuses and buses as well as provide technological tools that ensure our children are adequately prepared to meet the challenges of the future.
Stabilization and slight growth in enrollment: Even though our community is no longer growing, Kyrene’s reputation has resulted in more students seeking our district. That has caused a slight increase in enrollment (the primary source of funding).
A dollar invested in education returns 14.3 percent, while common stock over a 50-year period averages a 6.3 percent yield per year, according to a 2007 World Bank Study. Last November Arizona voters supported a 1 cent sales tax for education. The district tried to be clear this was not the only source of funding that would be needed and that the reduction of other state funding resources could further impact K-12 education. Indeed the state did impose reductions last year, however they were minimized due to passage of the 1 cent sales tax.
The governor, Senate and House are each developing budget scenarios that again decrease funding for K-12 education. How would that deficit affect the education our community expects for its children? Simply stated, we will not be able to provide all of the services that our community has been accustomed to. Faced with this reality, we are racing against the clock to overcome these losses with creative solutions to minimize the changes and maintain our pledge to provide a high quality educational opportunity for every student.
A budget process currently under way, involving many stakeholders, will determine exactly what will be done to manage a reduced budget. The Kyrene community counts on us because their children’s futures are directly tied to our schools’ performance.
We have been operating with reduced revenue for some time now, and when we have even less, there will be further adjustments to programs and services. In the end, we are working hard to ensure that, despite funding reductions, the community can continue to be proud of the education our children receive.