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Tue, Dec. 10

HUSD blames state funding 'shortfalls' for money woes

Humboldt Unified School District publicly acknowledged late last week that it is struggling with a serious financial problem.

In a meeting with reporters last Thursday, March 28, school district superintendent Dr. Cynthia Wood pointed to the shortfall in Prop 301 funds as the major factor in the district's decision to cut other budgets to ensure it can give teachers their promised salary increases.

HUSD teacher pay raises vary from $2,907 up to about $7,000, depending upon longevity and the degree held by the individual teacher. Earlier this year the school board also approved a lesser pay raise for "classified" employees, those in non-teaching support positions.

"Humboldt Unified School District is experiencing a significant shortfall of Prop 301 revenues...due to the slowed economy," Wood said in a press release. Wood blamed the Sept. 11 east coast terrorist attacks for the "downturn in Arizona's economy."

Prop 301 funds come from state sales tax revenues.

Arizona's Classroom Site Fund for teacher pay and school maintenance and operations is dead last on a list of 11 Prop 301 recipients that includes universities, colleges, and the state general fund.

Wood also said a reduction in student growth accounts for a portion of lost HUSD revenues because the state funds school districts according to the number of students enrolled. She said HUSD enrollment this year increased by about 200 students, but the district has since lost 27 students.

This year the district also purchased and renovated new district office spaces in Prescott Valley for about $835,000. The district has so far paid about $300,000 of that amount.

But the severity of the district's financial woes are clearly a result of the pay raise the school board awarded teachers in April. Rather than pass on to teachers whatever amounts Prop 301 might provide - as neighboring Mayer Unified School District did, for example - the school board promised approximately 315 teachers fixed amounts of Prop 301 money, as well as additional money from the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) budget and Prop 101 and trigger money.

The school board raised salaries based on projections of income that has failed to materialize. So far the state has provided school districts with only a fraction of expected Prop 301 funds. The state, rather than sending schools Prop 101 and trigger money as separate funding as it has in the past, this year dropped it into state school funding. Making matters worse, the state is slashing that funding for schools as it struggles with its own budget deficits. Also, Wood said, the district has failed to gain the revenue it expected from a new Medicaid billing process.

"All of these factors were unexpected," she said.

Wood said the school district must now make "budget reductions which will be very difficult as the majority of operating costs are salary and fringe benefits for those who provide instruction and support for the children."

Wood said she will meet with reporters again tomorrow, April 4, to provide details on the district's present deficit and planned district budget cuts.

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