In a dramatic 11th-hour vote on the district's budget last Wednesday, the Tempe Union High School board voted 3-2 to reject cuts that would have eliminated librarians and English instructional assistants throughout the district. After long discussions, two failed motions to pass the budget and urging from three staff members to reconsider the cuts, the board passed a motion approving the budget as recommended minus the affected positions. An amendment attached by Don Keuth, the only Tempe Union board member from Ahwatukee Foothills, guaranteed the positions would be funded. Funding for the positions will be hammered out at later meetings. Keuth and board member Michelle Helm announced early on in the discussion Wednesday that they would not vote for any proposal that didn't spare the positions. "I think we have not looked at other options available to us to fund this shortfall," Keuth said, referring to the approximately $1.1 million budget deficit that prompted the initial suggestion of the cuts. "I think the money's there, and I've said all along, like Don, that we need to find it," she said. The two were joined by board member Mary Lou Taylor in approving the motion to revisit the positions. Board president Zita Johnson and board member Robin Arredondo-Savage voted against the measure. Johnson and Arredondo-Savage explained that their opposition votes were borne out of a concern that the money could be found. "Basically what we're saying is that we're going to fund them, we just don't know how we're going to fund them," Arredondo-Savage said. District staffers validated the concern, noting that they weren't sure from whence funding would come. As possibilities they suggested additional money from the state and other revenue sources, but made it clear that nothing was certain. Still, the move drew a positive reaction from the crowd of employees present at the meeting. After the vote, the assembled staff made clear their reaction to the motions of Keuth and Helm. "I have a problem with these people in these positions being left in limbo, for however long it is, and..." Keuth was cut off by audience applause. According to employees who attended the meeting, this is not the first time the English instructional assistants and librarians have been targeted to ease budget woes. One staff member said after the vote that it was the third time in 20 years she'd lobbied the board to reconsider eliminating the positions. Board members seemed put off by the process as well, with Keuth and Arredondo-Savage saying that future budgets should be three-year plans to give board members a more comprehensive look at financial states. "The problem here is that we're having to be reactive," Arredondo-Savage said. "I don't want to be reactive again; I want to be proactive." Additionally, Helm instructed district staffers to investigate why the board was able to control the fate of the positions, as opposed to individual principals deciding as is done with teachers. The fate of the targeted staff has been uncertain since April 25, when the first draft of Superintendent Shirley Miles' budget recommendation suggested cutting six of the district's 12 librarians - all schools have two - and eliminating all five English instructional positions. That recommendation was altered May 9, after additional state money came in, to eliminating three librarians and replacing an additional three with part-time employees. English instructional assistants were still up for elimination. --Jason Ludwig can be reached at (480) 898-7916 or

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