Arizona school districts received a blow last month when the state cut $98 million from Arizona schools’ basic state aid and $21 million from soft capital for this fiscal year.
Although the Sedona Oak Creek School District is required to cut $115,000 from this year’s budget, teachers’ positions and their salaries will be saved.
According to Senate Bill 1106, passed at the end of January, SOCSD must cut $93,858 from their Maintenance and Operations budget, which pays for teachers’ salaries, and $20,919 from soft capital, which pays for things like books, computers and software.
Mingus Union High School District was ordered to cut $156,028 and Cottonwood Oak Creek Elementary District must cut $311,151. Camp Verde Unified District was forced to cut $115,297.
“That’s a pretty big chunk to cut two-thirds through the year,” SOCSD Superintendent Mike Aylstock said.
The kicker, he said, is that the state isn’t even going to benefit from the district’s cuts because SOCSD’s money is generated locally through property taxes and not state aid.
“But they have to treat everyone equally,” he said. There are 11 districts in Arizona that are forced to make cuts, even though their savings won’t go to the state.
A bonus, though, is that the bill exempted small school districts — ones with fewer than 600 students.
Thanks to efforts from Rep. Andy Tobin [R-District 1], they took it one step further and allowed exemption if the district’s kindergarten through eighth-grade school or ninth through 12th-grade school had fewer than 600 students.
“Since Sedona Red Rock High School is less than 600 students, we got a little break there,” Aylstock said, grateful of Tobin’s efforts. “It could have been worse for us.”
For the remainder of the school year, the bill allows districts to use soft capital allocations to go toward operations, which could come in handy, but Aylstock doesn’t think they’ll have to go this route.
SOCSD is fortunate that it carried over the maximum — 4 percent — into its M&O every year, he said, which gives it flexibility to make the state-mandated cuts now.
“We aren’t going to be reducing staff,” he said. “We aren’t going to be cutting salaries.
“Because of reserves we have in soft capital and the 4 percent carryover the district has done every year, we’ll be able to get through this year pretty much unscathed,” he said.
But based on the rumors, next year will be worse, he predicted.
On Feb. 12, Mingus Union High School District Board voted to make cuts in order to give money back to the state, according to Interim Superintendent Nancy Alexander.
MUHSD was ordered to cut $28,017 in soft capital, which is what it had left, so the district suspended all soft capital spending.
To help the M&O, the board voted to cut all transportation costs except those sponsored by the Arizona Interscholastic Association for sporting events.
“A lot of trips are planned that unless they have tax credit dollars or can fundraise, they’ll have to be suspended,” Alexander said.
The board also stopped all purchase order requests unless there is a health or safety concern to give relief to the M&O.
“There are all kinds of supplies that we’re doing without for the spring,” she said.
As for the economic stimulus bill passed Tuesday, Feb. 17, it won’t make up for the latest state cuts.
According to Aylstock, SOCSD is set to receive $59,600 under Title 1, which can help with remedial math and reading, and $140,600 under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for special education.
One potential problem with the federal funds is that the district can only use them for Title 1 and IDEA purposes, and not to offset its losses elsewhere.
MUHSD has used some of its M&O money for special education, so some of the IDEA funds may be allowed to go to the M&O.
“Whether or not they’ll let us supplant or not, we don’t know,” Alexander said. “If there are supplant restrictions there will be little impact on the M&O.”
A second problem is that if the district receives funds, it may not be until the end of the school year and only a small percentage can be carried into next year.
“When those kinds of numbers flow in at the end of the year, it’s going to be difficult spending
that kind of money,” Aylstock said.
Local superintendents met with Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] in Prescott to take those concerns to Washington.
According to Aylstock, currently, the district could not pay a teacher’s salary with Title 1 funds.
“My main concern is that with all the uncertainties, that they don’t negatively affect the education we’re providing our students,” he said. “I call on parents and community members to contact our legislators and implore them not to balance the budget on the backs of K through 12 students.”