STATE BUDGET CUTS COULD HURT AMPHI - The Explorer: Import

STATE BUDGET CUTS COULD HURT AMPHI

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Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2002 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Proposed state budget cuts by Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull may force the Amphitheater governing board to make tough budget choices again this year for the cash-strapped district.

According to Superintendent Vicki Balentine, Hull's cuts would take away a large portion of the money used to buy supplies ranging from crayons to computers to school buses. If the Legislature approves the cuts at the end of its session in just a few weeks, the district stands to lose about $1.5 million, or roughly half its soft capital budget. The cuts would go into effect during the next fiscal year, where the Legislature is fighting to alleviate a $1 billion budget shortfall.

Hull, when trying to come up with ways to solve the budget crisis, initially said she did not want to see funding from K-12 education cut.

But in a statement released March 28, at the same time the recommendations were released, Hull said she had to look at everything when deciding what needed to be cut.

That kind of cut would have a profound impact on the district as a whole, including parents, teachers and students, Balentine said.

"There are some major things that need to be done," Balentine said. "We're just beginning to replace buses that are 20 years old."

As an example of how the state cuts will have a ripple effect through the school district, Amphi Associate Superintendent Richard Hooley said the district is in process of finding a new math book for all kindergarten through eighth graders. The new textbook is needed in light of recent changes to Amphi's math curriculum that is largely dictated by Arizona's mandated AIMS test. Hooley said he is now uncertain if the district can afford to purchase the new books.

Hooley, who is also the district's director of school operations, said the district has spent three years researching different math textbooks and had already decided on one to purchase for next year.

Hooley did not have an exact dollar amount for the cost of the books, but said that replacing textbooks for more than 10,000 students would be "quite expensive." He added that he didn't know if the district would be able to afford that many new textbooks in addition to other items that must be paid for through the soft capital budget.

"The real problem is that so many things come out of (soft capital funds)," Hooley said. "For us it will mean really setting priorities."

Hooley said adding to the potential monetary constraints is Ironwood Ridge High School, which the district is still outfitting with necessary supplies. The school opened to freshman and sophomores this year and adds juniors next school year and seniors the following year.

"We didn't buy every test tube and beaker for all of the science classes," Hooley said. "Now we have a whole new class coming in next year."

Hooley said it is standard practice for a district with a new school to gradually buy supplies as the new school's population grows to avoid exhausting the entire soft capital budget on one school.

Hooley also said it wouldn't be wise to use money from the district's maintenance and operations budget to pay for supplies since the majority of those funds have already been allocated for things like teacher salaries.

Hooley said in addition to outfitting a new high school, the district also has to replace its student computers on a regular basis to stay on track with constantly updated technology.

"It's of very great concern to us," Hooley said. "Even schools in the best of circumstances have a hard time staying abreast of the latest technology."

Hooley said computers are typically replaced every five years. If the proposed cuts are approved, that would mean replacing less computers, meaning students would be using antiquated systems.

Some Amphi boardmembers say they are not only concerned with the financial impact the cuts would have on the district, but also the impact on teacher morale.

Boardmember Kent Barrabee said he knows that many people will be turning to the board for answers if students aren't getting the necessary supplies to learn, even though the board would only be acting as an extension of the state.

"It hurts me deeply that I would have to enforce requirements and reduce the amount of tools that teachers need," he said. "It hurts me on behalf of the teachers, students and parents."

John Lewandowski, president of the Amphi Education Association, Amphi's teachers' union, said, without a doubt, that the cuts would cause a great deal of frustration for teachers who already spend their own money to buy supplies for their students.

"Teachers are already averaging about $1,000 per student," Lewandowski said.

He added that the cuts could also add tension to the teacher's already-strained relationship with the board. The past several months have seen squabbles between teachers and boardmembers over salary increases, performance pay benefits and the district's early retirement plan.

"Our relationship with the district could get strained even more," Lewandowski said.

He also said that he was grateful that Proposition 301 was approved by voters in November, which allowed for a .06 sales tax increase for education. Under that approval, voters also mandated basic state funding for Arizona's public schools that cannot be changed.

Lewandowski said he saw that legislation as a step in the right direction for public education, but said if these cuts are approved, the state would be taking a step backwards.

Rep. Pete Hershberger, R-Tucson, whose district encompasses a large part of the Amphi district, agreed.

"I have some serious concerns," Hershberger said. "I'm an advocate for education and for kids, and these cuts do a serious injustice to both."

Hershberger said he was surprised to see the amount of funding that Hull proposed to cut considering her past support of public education.

"That seems to counter her history," he said. "She worked really hard to get Prop. 301 approved."

Hershberger also said he has concerns about Arizona's recent low ranking in the country's public school systems and how budget cuts would impact efforts to improve that ranking.

"This doesn't help us much," he said. "This would be going a step back."

Board Vice President Mary Schuh said she feels the Legislature has no idea how much school districts are strapped for cash.

"The state's viewpoint is that all of us have too much money," she said.

Other proposed cuts include the district's building renewal funds by more than $1.5 million out of a $3.9 million budget.

Building renewal funds are used to repair and replace things like air conditioners, roofs and portable classroom buildings.

Doug Aho, executive manager of operational support for Amphi, said his funding for this year was already cut by almost $1 million, putting some projects, such as air conditioning and roofing repairs, on hold.

With some schools in the district being more than 40 years old, Aho said if the funding is cut according to Hull's recommendations, it would be disastrous.

Plans for more roofing repairs, replacement of parts for electrical systems in schools, the replacement of portable classroom trailers with permanent buildings and the revamping of fire alarm systems are all slated to begin within the next couple of years, but would have to be put on hold if the proposed cuts go through.

Aho said it could get as bad as some students sitting in classrooms with no air conditioning because necessary parts could not be replaced.

As far as this years projects go, which include several similar types of repairs and renovations, "it's still a go," Aho said. "But you never know. They have the power to do anything."

Hershberger said the budget discussions could go into June, but hopes that discussions will cease at the end of May.

In the meantime, Governing Board President Ken Smith is encouraging anyone with vested interest to contact members of the Legislature with opinions about the cuts, as well as any other opinions about legislation affecting Amphi schools.

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