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2:29 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

PUSD cuts teachers, staff to solve budget deficit

The Prescott School District Governing Board Tuesday evening approved Reduction In Force letters and program cuts to solve a $1.8 million decline in the district's maintenance and operations budget.

Declining revenue from the state, increased health insurance costs and retirement rates, and declining enrollment has PUSD, like other school districts, facing staff and program cuts for the upcoming school year.

District officials said they have no choice but to cut $1.8 million from the M&O budget. Depending on whether voters on May 18 approve Proposition 100, the statewide one-cent sales tax initiative, district officials say they could have to cut an additional $1.9 million from the M&O budget.

PUSD began budget cuts in 2008-09. The state legislature enacted a mid-year cut that cost PUSD $691,579.

"The district dipped into the Prescott EBT (employee benefit trust) fund and did not have to cut staff or programs," Superintendent Kevin Kapp said.

In 2009-10, the district made $342,353 in cuts district-wide and required the Prescott High School athletic department to contribute $25,000 for travel costs.

From 2008 to 2010, the district has reduced its budget by $1 million.

Now, the district must cut an additional $1.8 million from its budget. Each district department and school must cut their budgets based on their percentage of the total M&O budget.

During the 2009-10 budget process, department heads and school principals identified Tier I and Tier II cuts. When the district received its final budget numbers, officials were able to make only Tier I cuts, totaling $322,000.

Department heads and school principals are carrying Tier I cuts forward for next year, but must now include $364,564 in Tier II cuts. Some departments and schools must make $102,378 leveling cuts.

District officials base leveling cuts on the ratio of teachers to students. Miller Valley Elementary School has a higher ratio of teachers to students and must "level" the number to that of other elementary schools.

The special education department is eliminating five aide positions for leveling reasons.

Most of the schools are cutting their budgets by reducing hours or cutting aide positions and custodial services. Officials are cutting overtime.

However, reduction in classified staff members cannot make up the entire budget deficit. Some schools are cutting teacher positions.

In addition to its leveling cuts, Miller Valley is cutting an additional full-time teacher; Taylor Hicks is cutting one teacher; Granite Mountain is cutting one teacher; Prescott Mile High Middle School is cutting a half-time counselor and a half-time teacher; and PHS is cutting one teacher.

Some schools will save money because of the difference between a retiring teacher's salary and a new teacher salary.

In fact, Lincoln Elementary Principal Bucky Bates can meet his budget cuts, $60,779, through the retirement of three teachers. Bates would not have to make any additional teacher or program cuts.

That did not seem equitable to Abia Judd teacher Jane Robertson.

While she understands the need for cuts, Robertson asked the board to make equitable cuts. She said each retiring teacher saves the district between $20,000 and $25,000. At Lincoln, that is $60,000. However, no teachers are retiring at Abia Judd, and two classified positions are among the Tier II cuts.

"I think that is unfair," Robertson said. "If the all-day kindergarten tuition will be shared equally through all schools, why is it not the same with retirement? If the savings are shared among the schools, we would not have to cut aides."

According to Kapp, up until a year or two ago, the district tracked retirement savings and it would issue second contracts to teachers reflecting those savings.

"We have some time; this is an interesting idea and we would be happy to look into it," Kapp said.

Editor's Note: Additional information about more PUSD budget and program reductions will appear in Friday's paper.