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Sun, Dec. 08

School district will lay off 62 teachers

Humboldt Unified School District will dismiss 62 of its 315 teachers in an attempt to balance a projected $500,00 budget deficit that Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Wood said is caused by a combination of the April, 2001 HUSD teacher pay raise and a post-Sept. 11 slowed economy.

Also, Wood said, the district lost an expected $800,000 income from the state for a planned growth of 200 students that never materialized.

A budget review released by the district late last week shows the district is presently suffering a Maintenance & Operation budget deficit of $1,979,879. But transferring $1.5 million into the M&O from other budgets will reduce that deficit to $479,879, according to Wood, who said at a press conference last Thursday night that the nearly half-million dollar figure is the true deficit.

"The monies are there; they're just in categories within the district fund that are not covering these salaries," she said. "We're just going to make some transfers to be at the $479,879 (deficit)."

The district will make up that remaining half-million dollar deficit by "RIFing" (Reduction In Force) 62 teachers and taking 21 other cost-saving measures, she said.

"If we didn't do any of these things, we'd still be at the $479,879," Wood said.

David Newman, president of the local teacher's union, Humboldt Education Association, is unhappy with the abruptness of the district's decision to cut teachers.

"It just astounds me that they didn't know 'til six weeks before the end of the year that they had a two million dollar problem," said "I find that remarkable, to say the least."

But RIFing even the 62 lowest-paid teachers in the district represents a salary saving of at least $1.6 million, three times the remaining deficit. The school district will dismiss those teachers both to make up that remaining deficit, and as a "precaution" to ensure it can afford to operate next year, Wood said.

"We're anticipating what next school year is going to look like. We don't want to come up short next year," Wood said. "That is a precaution, not just for the $479,879, but for the projection for the next year and a half. We're taking proactive precautions on behalf of the school district so that we don't end up with a greater deficit next year. We want to correct it now so that we don't have to be at this place next year."

Newman said RIFing teachers is the result of a either a lack of foresight by the school district managers, or their inability to understand earlier on that they were headed for financial trouble.

"I think it's very unfortunate and I believe the whole issue could have been avoided by a little more careful planning and, frankly, knowing they had a problem sooner," Newman said.

Wood said the district will RIF teachers beginning with those hired between Jan 2001 - June 2001. The district will notify the affected teachers by April 15. Wood said those teachers among that group that hold "special" certificates may be exempt from the RIF.

In addition to RIFing teachers Wood listed another 21 actions the district will take to reduce expenditures and balance the budget. Those include freezing all salaries, including Wood's; cutting utility costs; curtailing overtime; not filling presently vacant positions; spending frugally and not stockpiling materiel. Also, Wood said, she will decline her $10,000 "goals" bonus this year.

In late March a press release from Wood blamed the district's money woes on the Sept 11 terrorist attacks causing a shortfall in Prop 301 funds, and on the pay raise the school board awarded teachers last April.

Earlier, the district said the Prop 301 shortfall amounts to about $300,000. Prop 301 funds come from an increase in state sales taxes.

The shortfall hurts the district because the school board legally bound itself last year to add a fixed amount of Prop 301 money to teachers' base salaries. With the state failing to deliver that money, the district must now provide it from its own budget.

The school board also decided to dip into the district's M&O budget to raise teacher salaries from $2,907 to about $7,000, depending upon the individual teacher's degree and longevity in the district.

Also, Wood said, the district planned on growing by another 200 students this year, and expected $789,000 more funding from the state as a result. But instead of growing, the district has experienced its first year of declining enrollment in decades, with a net loss of 37 students so far this year, Wood said.

Wood said declining enrollment is the result of fewer people moving to the Prescott Valley area, and of students enrolling in charter schools.

The state is also trying to meet its own budget deficits by shifting education costs. According to Arizona School Administrators, Inc., a group that serves its member public school administrators, the state will save $188 million by simply delaying the June 2002 payment to school districts until July 2002. The state funds school districts in 12 monthly payments; the "education rollover" payment in July instead of June moves that payment into the 2002-2003 fiscal year, saving, on paper anyway, about $188 million in fiscal year 2001-2002. However, the move immediately increases 2002-2003 costs by that same amount.

Similarly, the sate will delay second half FY 2001-2002 Building Renewal Fund payments to school districts in order to save about $75 million. The state also intends to garner an immediate savings of $150 to $200 million by issuing state bonds for new school construction, instead of paying cash out of the state's general fund.

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