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Tue, Nov. 12

Humboldt Unified School District considers salary cuts

The Humboldt Unified School District administrative team is looking at all its options when it comes to creating a 2010-11 budget.

Despite the fact that officials are only hearing rumors about what measures the Arizona Legislature will take to balance its budget, HUSD is preparing for budget cuts that could reach $2 million, or 6 percent of its $32 million annual budget.

While the HUSD Governing Board will make the final decisions about any cuts, administration officials said, "Everything is on the table."

Everything, except nurses.

Personnel Director Phil Young said the administrative team would recommend that the district make no cuts to the number of nursing positions.

District administers told the HUSD Certified Meet and Confer Committee Feb. 3 that a 5 percent, across-the-board salary cut could make up the $1.2 million the district would lose if the Legislature eliminated full-day kindergarten.

"Both the governor and the Legislature have the elimination of full-day kindergarten funding on their agendas for cuts," Young said.

The loss of full-day kindergarten could actually be a two-fold financial hit. HUSD gained about 70 students when it went to full-day kindergarten.

It is possible the enrollment could drop without full-day kindergarten, resulting in an additional $200,000 to $300,000 in lost revenue.

Reducing teacher salaries to cover the financial loss of full-day kindergarten would be a hard sell at the high school level.

Tori Kendall, a representative from Bradshaw Mountain High School, said, "If the district is going to offer to subsidize full-day kindergarten and cut teacher salaries, the high school teachers have a concern."

Meet and Confer Committee member Jeff Torp said, "Parents are not concerned about half-day kindergarten. They are concerned about day care."

Young added, "We could offer full-day kindergarten for a fee, but a lot of our families are on free and reduced lunch and can't afford it."

The loss of full-time kindergarten would reduce the number of kindergarten teachers. Young indicated that despite the reduction in salaries, the district would still lose $700,000 to $800,000 in state money.

HUSD Financial Director Cynthia Windham said the Legislature could decide not to cut full-day kindergarten. The lawmakers could reduce school financing in other ways, such as reducing the student base amount.

Either way, HUSD is preparing for budget cuts.

"It seems like the writing is on the wall, the district is in dire straits," Torp said. "If there are no more staff reductions, are salary cuts really on the table?"

Young said the district is looking at an $800,000 to $900,000 reduction from next year's budget before the state does anything.

District officials are looking at reducing programs and restructuring.

The first thing officials are considering is moving sixth-grade students from the middle schools to the elementary schools.

On Feb. 2, Assistant Superintendent Dean Slaga told the HUSD Governing Board that the greatest loss of student enrollment is between fifth to sixth grade. Parents withdraw their students from HUSD after fifth grade because they are uncomfortable with the transition from elementary to middle school.

According to Slaga, the district has room at all the elementary schools to add sixth-grade classrooms.

Not all of the budget reductions are coming directly from the Legislature. HUSD is anticipating losses of $800,000 because of declining enrollment, $300,000 in increased health insurance premiums and an $88,000 increase in contributions to the state retirement program.

During the past three years, district officials have reacted to reductions in state education financing by making cuts that do not directly affect students.

"As we look at losing $1 to $2 million, we have to do something to programs and staff. We are weighing a variety of options and looking at which ones are most acceptable to the community," Young said.

A reduction in staff remains a possibility, although Young said, "We don't know if and when, but it will not be a large-scale RIF like this past year. We won't make any decision until we know our program needs."

Superintendent Dr. Henry Schmitt said, "The first things we will look at are retirements and resignations."

A new law that allows Arizona's school districts to adjust teacher contracts at any time lessens the possibility of districts issuing reduction in force (RIF) because of budget uncertainty.

Additionally, school districts can no longer RIF teachers based on length of employment. Teachers would now be RIFed by programs and the criteria of the programs.

"Our goal is to identify any staff reductions by the end of March," Young said.

Early notification would allow teachers time to look for positions outside the district, as well as at district openings.

"This is a time when creativity has to come to the fore. We have to look at magnet schools. We have to look at basic schools," Schmitt said. "During challenging times organizations have the opportunity to streamline and improve its systems."

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