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1:20 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Kapp to school board: Despite growth, PUSD may face budget cuts<BR>

PRESCOTT — During Tuesday's study session, Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Kevin Kapp presented possible budget scenarios to the school board that could leave the district short on money next year despite the growth evident in the 100-day count numbers.

"We can call this 'the best of times and the worst of times,'" Kapp said, "but it's time for everyone to be aware of the realities there" regarding the budget.

The "best of times" Kapp referred to are thanks to the district's growth in student numbers. Preliminary numbers show that this year's enrollment increased by about 124 students.

Despite the growth, Kapp said cuts that the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (JLBC) is proposing for next year's budget are frustrating.

"This shows us what happens when a district does everything right. We're a medium-sized, growing district with small class sizes and good test scores," he said, noting that after combining prospective district costs with student growth and possible JLBC cuts, the district would have a net deficit of $1,446,000.

That worst-case scenario has a best-case counterpart: if district costs remain relatively stable (with some typical increases such as insurance costs and professional growth), and the Legislature does not approve budget cuts, the district will have about $320,000 to spend after regular maintenence and operations and capital spending.

Kapp said the district would spend that money on new teachers to support student growth, staff raises and improvement and additions to programs for students – including art and PE.

In preparation for possible budget cuts, Kapp said the district has begun to take advantage of programs to help ease the effect of higher costs and larger cuts.

Some of these are federal reimbursement programs, and the district continues to rent out its buildings and to offer childcare.

Many of these programs create "paperwork nightmares," according to Kapp, but "the merit is there. We can't just sit back and be passive," he said, when facing budget cuts like these.

If legislators approve proposed education bills, districts that do not spend at least 10 percent less than the state average on administrative costs will be penalized.

PUSD spends 8 percent less than the state average, but Kapp said he aims for a high administrator-to-student ratio, so he does not want to cut down on administrators.

"High administrator-to-student ratios result in a lower number of discipline problems and a better climate," Kapp said. "We're being punished for that, in my opinion."

Although Kapp said district officials "are thrilled" about the preliminary growth numbers and that legislators are proposing some cuts that do not affect PUSD, he said he finds the worst-case scenario "incredibly discouraging."

In other discussion, Board Member Joan Fleming reported on her attendance at the Federal Relations Network 30th Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. She said the four main items up for discussion at the conference were the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), vouchers and tuition tax credits and federal funding.

"We do fully support the goals of the law," she said, referring to NCLB, but said with the act's present structure, "it is set up for failure."

The act places high demands on educators (100 percent of students meeting standards in math, science and reading by 2014) without funding to carry out those demands.

"It's a societal and statistical impossibility," she said. "NCLB provides an inspiring goal, but the challenge will be in converting that promise into reality."

At next Tuesday's voting session, the governing board will vote on:

• Board policy changes that will result in greater parental involvement at Title 1 schools;

• A one-year unpaid leave of absence for Miller Valley Elementary School Principal Bob Williams, who said, "I just want to know what it feels like to have three kids instead of 433 for one year";

• The Preliminary Capital Outlay Budget, allocated to each school based on student count. This budget pays for capital items, including books, computers and furniture, and also covers building renewal and repair.

The PUSD governing board will meet next at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lincoln Elementary School, 201 Park Ave.

Contact Hilary Eller at heller@prescottaz.com or 445-8179, ext. 1139.