Cuts draw fire from school officials - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Cuts draw fire from school officials

More spending reductions proposed for FY 2010

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Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:28 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

State lawmakers were in Tucson last week to discuss the possibility of more cuts to education funding in fiscal 2010, which begins July 1.

Members of the House Education Committee held the meeting at Flowing Wells High School, 1556 W. Prince Road, where about 300 people turned up — some holding signs opposing the impending cuts.

In January, state lawmakers cut more than $119 million from the $4.5 billion allotted for K-12 education. With a multi-billion dollar deficit likely in fiscal 2010, state leaders have proposed another $800-million reduction.

K-12 spending makes up nearly half of the state budget.

“We need to take care to not try and balance the budget on the backs of our kids,” said state Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Democrat from District 29 in Tucson.

Representative Nancy Young Wright, a Democrat from District 26, which includes Oro Valley and parts of Pinal County, also attended the meeting.

Republican state Sen. Al Melvin (District 26) also came to the gathering.

Numerous public-school officials were asked to speak and answer questions, including Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen.

With 57,000 students, the city district is the largest in Southern Arizona and the second largest statewide.

Celania-Fagen told lawmakers the district could have to cut $63 million — about 16 percent — from its fiscal 2010 budget if the Legislature approves the proposed funding cuts.

That figure equals the salaries of 1,300 teachers, Celania-Fagen said.

The district’s fiscal 2009 budget totals about $400 million.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton also spoke.

“We’re in a state where reducing the investment in public infrastructure has been the driving force in public policy for 30 years,” said Shelton, who received a standing ovation after his opening comments.

Shelton told the legislators that the university has already absorbed an $88-million budget cut this year, which has forced the elimination of 600 jobs, caused work furloughs for other employees, reduced operating hours for museum, and eliminated one college and consolidated four others.

The university’s total fiscal 2009 budget stands at more than $1.4 billion. The proposed cuts represent a 6-percent reduction in spending.

But if the proposal before the Legislature goes forward, the university could see another $100-million reduction in state support. The state provided about $400 million to the university in fiscal 2009.

To make up for the impending cuts — about 7 percent of its budget — the university would have to make further reductions in academic offerings or raise tuition by roughly $5,000, a move the university would not take, Shelton said. 

“Our agriculture dean would tell you we are eating our seed corn,” Shelton said.

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