School districts in the East Valley are working the numbers to figure how much they will have to pay utilities, pay teachers next year or spend on textbooks.
But they don’t know for certain yet how much money will be available.
As the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer continue to battle over Arizona’s Medicaid plan, the state budget is on hold.
“That’s slowed things down and made it hard on all school districts in providing information to school boards on how much money they’re getting. It’s been frustrating in that respect,” Gilbert Superintendent Dave Allison told the board last week.
Public school districts and charter schools receive funding based on a formula set by the state. That formula roughly uses enrollment and the amount of money allocated to education to determine how much per student funding is available.
But so far, the only firm proposal the schools know about is the one Brewer set forth, and rumors that the state will meet a court order to fund a 2 percent increase voters approved to take place annually more than a decade ago.
“Everybody is keeping really close watch on what’s going on downtown,” said Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Helen Hollands. “Mesa gave out all our 13-14 (school year) contracts based on the 12-13 salary schedule with the understanding that once the budget was passed, any addendum would be issued. You have to get teachers out at contract, particularly before they get off contract. You want them to commit to the next year, hopefully prior to leaving.”
With the recession, millions have been cut from public education in Arizona in the past few years. Teacher salaries have been frozen. Class sizes have increased. And in some cases, classes – such as art or music – have been decreased or eliminated at some grade levels.
Some districts have also seen the loss of the maintenance and budget override renewals. Districts can ask voters to approve overrides, where property owners pay additional taxes to give more money to their local schools.
The Chandler Unified School District could dip into its contingency funds again, said co-CFO Joel Wirth. But school leaders are trying to keep as much of it in place for the future, when the district stops adding students.
Next year, Wirth said the district is budgeting for an additional 750 students.
“We don’t know if the state is going to give us the money for the things we’re going to do. Utilities and supplies go up (in cost). We are planning right now, if there is no additional state funding, we will use contingency,” Wirth said.
The district also has a maintenance and operations budget override on the November ballot. It is currently has a 10 percent override in place – which gives the district $18 million each year. It is seeking a 15 percent override, to give the district an additional $27 million each year. Voters turned down the override request last November, but the district has another chance to request it before it starts to decrease.
Some school boards have made decisions despite the uncertainty.
Higley Unified School District teachers will receive an additional $350 next year. Gilbert Unified School District teachers will see their salary schedule – the calculations used to determine how much each teacher gets paid – increase 3 percent.
Mesa Superintendent Mike Cowan told staff in a letter that district will propose an increase of about 3 percent for all employees next year, based on preliminary figures.
“While the budget process is certainly not done, as the governor and legislators work through a number of their priorities, I am pleased to announce that we are working on a plan for next year that will offer approximately 3 percent additional compensation for our employees. Following the salary increase of 2 to 2.2 percent last year, we are excited to have the resources and a relatively stable economic forecast to assemble a budget that would accommodate such an option this year,” he wrote.
But for many East Valley teachers, a salary increase doesn’t necessarily mean more money in their pockets. Many will pay more for health insurance and all school employees will also pay more into the state retirement system next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Each state employee who qualifies is required to contribute 11.54 percent of his or her salary into the Arizona State Retirement System next year, increase from last year’s 11.15 percent.
School boards are required to have a final budget to the state by July 15.
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