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Sun, Dec. 15

Prop. 301 shortfalls put school district in budget bind

If the state doesn't find a way to increase the Classroom Site Fund payments that voters intended (through Proposition 301) to increase teachers' salaries, Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) students will pay a price.

CVUSD has been digging into its maintenance and operation (M&O) budget to supplement shortfalls in Prop. 301 money, said the district's superintendent, Linda Nelson.

"Our teachers' contracts are written for the school year," Nelson said. "When they sign a contract, they sign for a particular amount. And the amount in the contract is based upon the new salary schedule that we put into effect based on revenues from 301."

Currently, the state is three payments behind, and the three payments the district has received so far are thousands of dollars short of what it expected.

Furthermore, the districts can spend the Prop. 301 money only when the cash is actually in their accounts, which is not the case with budget money. Districts have discretion to spend their budget money in advance, as long as it is within the budget limit, Nelson explained.

"We can only spend the (301) cash as it comes in," she said. "That is the trouble we are facing, because we have this big chunk of cash that is going into salaries. We've got to get the cash in order to pay salaries, and the cash isn't here. Because the cash isn't here, we have to go into our regular maintenance and operating budget."

According to district business manager Lynn Drye, the district has fulfilled almost 50 percent of its salary obligations to the teachers.

By the end of November, "I had to move about $52,000 for cash shortages" because of the three-month delay and insufficient Prop. 301 payment amounts, she said.

The district spends about 90 percent of its M&O fund on teachers' salaries and insurance, while 10 percent of the fund goes to student programs. The district will make a cut in the student programs if the sales tax revenues continue to drop and the state decreases the $272.42 per weighted student count amount, which is how the state bases the total amounts it pays to each school district in Arizona.

So far, CVUSD has received only 19 percent of the $784,590 projected total for this fiscal year. The district adjusted its budget accordingly when it increased teachers' base salaries from $22,800 to $24,500.

According to Nelson, salaries in the Chino Valley district are low compared to others in Arizona. In Phoenix, for example, teachers' base salaries are around $30,000.

"People have a perception that teachers got a huge raise," she said. "But up here, our teachers are still not competitive."

According to the state law, the district has to divide the Prop. 301 money between base salary, performance pay and school operation and maintenance, on a 20-40-40 ratio.

"Of the bottom 40 percent, 70 percent of that money goes to salaries," Nelson said. "That is a huge chunk of cash that we need."

According to Nelson, even though each contract has language that would allow the district to back out of it, "we would never want to exercise it."

"That would be just devastating," she said. "Teachers work for so little money as it is."

The Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD) in Prescott Valley and Dewey is in the same situation, even though the district has decided to dispense the Prop. 301 money in three separate payments instead of adding it to the teachers' regular paychecks.

According to Humboldt Unified School District's business manager, Gail Woods, that district will also have to dig into its M&O budget to fulfill its obligations if it does not get the Prop. 301 money it expected.

(Contact Mirsada Buric-Adam at mburicadam@prescottaz.com.)

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