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9:14 PM Mon, Dec. 10th

$1.9 million over budget, PUSD board must make more cuts

The Prescott Unified School District Governing Board will have its hands full as it faces the prospect of cutting millions from its $38.6 million budget.

"We are looking at $1.9 million in cuts this year, and are planning for the sunset of the Proposition 100, a 1 cent sales tax, next year which projects an additional $1.9 million," Assistant Superintendent Joe Howard said.

Renee Raskin, the district's chief financial officer, concurred. "Each time it becomes harder, because there is less to cut," she said.

Earlier this year, the main item challenging the school district's budget was the loss of an estimated $863,000 from a decline in students enrolled in the district, "mostly from families who have moved from Prescott and the state due to the economy and difficulty of finding a job," Howard said.

Another item hurting the district is a $500,000 decline in federal Education Jobs Funding, a one-time fund that reduced the amount of cuts last year, but will no longer be available, Howard said.

The largest portion of the school district's budget goes to pay for employee wages and benefits.

Over the past three years, 65.5 positions in the district have been cut, Howard said, and the average salary for teachers in the Prescott school district is $38,000, which is below the Arizona average salary of $44,672, and much less than the national average of $55,202.

Most of the school district's money, 68 percent, comes from local sources, such as property taxes, tuition, building rentals, tax credits and school fees. About 20 percent comes from state sources, including grants and Proposition 301 money, with 1 percent coming from Yavapai County. About 11 percent of funding comes from the federal government as grants.

Earlier this year, Raskin said, "I don't see any federal help coming. I hope that the state keeps our M and O (maintenance and operations funding) flat, and that there are no reductions."

The district's maintenance and operation fund uses 57 cents out of every dollar for instruction, including salary and benefits for teachers and other classroom employees. Nine cents out of each dollar is spent on learning support provided by counselors, librarians, nurses and others, 17 cents on plant operations, 11 cents for district administration, and 6 cents for transportation.

Because of reductions in state funding in the past several years, the district has been forced to dramatically change the services and standards it had previously established by reducing operating budgets, eliminating capital budgets, reducing and reorganizing staff, eliminating classes at the high school, increasing class sizes, lowering utility costs, limiting travel, reducing health and dental insurance for employees, and reorganizing nurse and health assistant staffing.

The board is exploring a possible override or bond, but that would be voted on in November, too late to help this year's budget.

For additional information on understanding the district's budget, visit mypusd.prescottschools.com, go to the bulletin board column on the right and click on the link Community Guide to Understanding the School District's Budget.

The board will discuss possible solutions to the potential crisis during its meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the district office, 146 S. Granite St. The public is welcome to attend.

In other business, the board also will consider:

• Approving an increase in the district's health insurance plan;

• Renewing Southwest Foodservice Excellence as the district's food service management company;

• Possible changes to the district's open enrollment policy in regards to the special education program;

• Policy revisions that would make employees who return to work for the district do so through a third party;

• Eliminating district health insurance for retirees or charging them more than an active employee.

Further budget talks will take place at an April 23 study session, a meeting for public comment on May 1 at Lincoln School, and further discussion and a possible vote at the district office May 5.