Superintendent Dr. Vicki Balentine has proposed budget cuts for Amphitheater School District, to include reduced staffing, more students in each classroom and the elimination of selected, free all-day kindergarten.
Amphi would continue to offer all-day kindergarten at its Title 1 schools. At other schools, parents could pay a $1,200 annual tuition plus $100 for supplies to place a child in all-day kindergarten, according to Balentine's recommendations.
When Balentine finished outlining reductions at last Tuesday's Amphitheater School Board meeting, 10-year board member Kent Barrabee expressed lament.
"I can honestly say this is the saddest meeting I have ever attended," Barrabee said. "I wish I could see the light, at the moment, at the end of this tunnel that we're in. I wish I felt there was some way that we could get through without there being serious damage to every aspect of our function. You know, in life you have to play the cards you get and unfortunately, when I look at the cards we have, I would say that we have been dealt a very, very weak hand. And yet, we have to play with what we have."
Amphitheater is preparing to deal with an expected revenue reduction of $7.2 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. If Arizona voters do not pass the Proposition 100 1 percent sales tax on May 18, the district will have to find an additional $6 million to eliminate from its budget, according to district documents.
Last week, Balentine outlined how the district is looking to recoup a little more than $3 million. She said the district has weighed its options to keep all-day kindergarten.
"We reviewed what more we would have to cut to fund it," Balentine said. "The state of course gave us permission to fund all-day, but that means we would have to cut that much more to provide the funding for that program."
The proposed changes would reduce Amphi's expenses for full-day kindergarten by $900,000, according to a budget document Balentine shared with the board.
According to Scott Little, the district's chief financial officer, the district currently spends about $1.6 million on kindergarten, to cover teachers and supplies. That figure does not include the overhead of campus costs.
"Depending on what you consider or don't consider, the number runs $900,000 to $1.6 [million] or above," Little said. It's "a hard thing to calculate," he added.
Increasing class sizes is another way Amphi is looking to recoup some of the funding it will not receive this coming year.
The current average K-12 classroom size formula is 29.75 students per classroom. If administrators approve an increase of one student per classroom in the formula for the next school year, the district can save $1.53 million. If Proposition 100 does not pass, the district might be looking at raising its classroom size formula by five students, Balentine's report indicates.
"People will often say 'save jobs and increase class size,' but when I increase class sizes, like this one, that's 34.1 (full-time equivalents) that will be laid off," Balentine said. "It means we have less teachers."
The district is faced with the tough decision to lay off faculty and staff members, implement pay reductions and require days off without pay, or furloughs.
With a pay reduction of 3 percent, the district could save $2.25 million. A one-day furlough for all employees would save $270,000.
School district administrators are required to announce their layoffs for next year by April 15, a month before a 1 percent sales tax increase goes to the voters.
If the proposition does pass, some of the teachers who received lay-off notices would be asked to come back. But before district officials know for sure how many faculty and staff members they will be able to afford next year, they have to lay off a large number.
"I am going to be over-notifying, and perhaps accurately notifying, I have no idea, but I am going to be over-notifying people that they don't have a job for next year," said Balentine.
"It can't be done with a scalpel, it's more of a hacksaw sort of a thing."
Proposition 100 is a temporary sales tax increase of 1 percent for the state of Arizona that goes before state voters on Tuesday, May 18.
The tax, which would be implemented June 1 if approved, would help raise state revenues for primary and secondary education, health and human services and public safety. Two-thirds of the money would be used for education, one-third used for health and public safety.
The tax increase would be repealed after May 13, 2013.