Budget surpluses in the Tempe Union High School District will let administrators reinstate about 10 jobs, offer employees stipends and prepay medical expenses, according to a budget recommendation the district’s board reviewed last Wednesday.

Between legislative cuts being lower than expected and enrollment growing more than anticipated, the district ended up with a $2.8 million budget surplus for the 2009-10 school year. Add in Proposition 100’s passage, projected enrollment growth and the ability to use this year’s surplus to prepay some of next year’s medical expenses, and the district will end up with a budget that grows an estimated $3.9 million in 2010-11.

That’s an unusual situation these days, something Superintendent Steve Adolph acknowledged at the board meeting.

“We are in a much better situation financially than some of our neighboring school districts,” he said.

Adolph’s budget recommendation still has to be approved by the board before it becomes official. The board will vote on the proposal today, June 2.

But if the budget proposal is approved as recommended, $1.2 million would be used to give all employees a 2 percent stipend at the end of the year. The remaining $1.6 million would be used to prepay some of next year’s medical expenses, thus freeing up money in next year’s budget.

Next year’s $3.9 million budget growth would have a wider variety of uses. Teachers would once again be able to move up pay scales based on experience, something that was frozen this year, at a cost of $1.1 million, and all staff members would get a 1 percent stipend, costing $609,700. Seven full-time certified teaching positions would be reinstated at a cost of $436,000. A 1 percent reinstatement of campus and district office cuts, which include reinstating stipends to run extracurricular activities, furloughs for support staff and a few maintenance jobs, comes with a $264,000 price tag. Alternative programs would get $200,000 in additional funding.

The remaining $1.2 million would be kept in a contingency budget.

“The state economy is still fragile, to say the least, and there will probably be things that will happen that are out of our control,” Adolph said.

The district’s contingency fund has generally been in the $650,000 to $750,000 range over the past few years, but the high amount is warranted in the current climate, said Diane Meulemans, chief financial officer for the district.

“The contingency number the superintendent has recommended is the largest contingency I have seen in 20 years here,” she said.

Principals from all seven district schools voiced their support for the budget, as did a teachers’ group representative.

The board, however, had questions about how the budget increases fit into the wider context of the district budget.

The documents the board looked at last week only had an explanation of where budget increases were coming from and how they should be used. Board vice president Zita Johnson said she would like to look at the big picture of the district’s finances, examining how individual programs operate and whether they’re operating in the black or red.

“I’m interested in a perspective that includes more of our programs and where they fit into this,” Johnson said.

Board president Robin Arredondo-Savage agreed, saying it was important the board understood how last year’s 6 percent budget cuts affected schools, especially since only 1 percent of the cuts were being reinstated.

Arredondo-Savage was also concerned that much of the district’s good fortune was the result of a temporary sales tax and increased enrollment, which is not something administrators can count on every year. She wants to see a long-term projection of the district’s financial and enrollment situation so plans can be made accordingly.

“We are relying so much on our growth, and no one else is really growing,” she said.

Several board members also asked if the district’s marketing department should get additional funding, attributing much of the enrollment growth to efforts to publicize programs and successes at individual schools.


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