With a 1 percent sales tax approved by voters, public schools are planning their budgets without the huge cuts they were bracing for had the measure failed, and in rare cases like in the Tempe Union High School District, they’re figuring out what to do with a budget surplus.
Schools are heralding Proposition 100’s victory as proof Arizonans support education. Many schools and school districts are trying to trim their spending anyway, since declining levels of funding and shrinking student populations have already reduced budgets. But had Proposition 100 failed, public schools were preparing to cut millions more.
“There is still work to be done to establish stable and appropriate funding for our public schools at levels that will support critical advances in academic achievement, but passage of Prop. 100 will go far to mitigate cuts to classrooms and programs for Arizona’s public schools in the near future,” Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said in a statement.
Tempe Union High School District spokeswoman Linda Littell said Contreras’ statement captured her district’s sentiment well.
“It’s certainly reassuring to know in these tough economic times that voters stepped up to the plate and said education is important,” Littell said.
The Tempe Union High School District was expecting a $3.9 million shortfall had the ballot measure failed. But now, they will instead have a $1.8 million surplus.
That surplus comes from several fortunate circumstances, including rising enrollment and a bond question voters approved in 2008, Littell said.
But that surplus isn’t being treated as new money. Tempe Union had to cut 6.3 percent of its budget last year and will now be able to reinstate 1 percent of those cuts, Littell said.
Exactly which cuts will be restored remains to be seen. The superintendent will make a recommendation to the governing board on how to use that money on May 26.
And not all of it will be put in the budget.
“We’re going to leave contingency money in the event (state officials) come back and say you need to make additional cuts,” Littell said.
The Kyrene School District will have to deal with $6 million in cuts instead of close to $12 million.
“We feel like it’s a strong show of support for public education. It’s not the total solution to the issues we face in the state, but it’s a beginning. It will prevent further damaging cuts that would have affected children in the classroom,” said Kyrene Superintendent David Schauer.
Kyrene had projected budget deficits due to declining enrollment many years ago, so they’re prepared to weather the smaller number with budget reserves and prepaying certain expenses, Schauer said.
Kyrene had already taken some actions in case the tax failed, including sending reduction-in-force notices to 71 teachers. The district was already gearing up to start calling those teachers and offering them jobs for next year, Schauer said.
It’s too early to say whether all of those teachers will get jobs – due to declining enrollment, the district may not have as many positions available as it does this year. But Schauer said that after the district sent out reduction-in-force notices last year, every teacher who was laid off was ultimately offered a contract.
“I’m predicting that will happen this year, and I’m hoping I’m right,” he said.
District schools aren’t the only ones rejoicing – public charter schools would have been hit, too.
Horizon Community Learning Center sent a thank you message out to parents after finding out the sales tax passed, said spokeswoman Melissa Hartley.
“It is so reassuring to know that Arizonans value children, education and safety,” the statement from executive director Jan Gleeson said. “Thank you to our parents and community members who recognized the importance of Proposition 100 for the future of our children.”