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12:37 AM Wed, Nov. 21st

Yavapai County school leaders discuss dire finances

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br>
Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent Duane Howard discusses budget cuts at a League of Women Voters forum Saturday while fellow superintendents David Smucker, Mary Ellen Halvorson and  Paul Stanton listen.

Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier<br> Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent Duane Howard discusses budget cuts at a League of Women Voters forum Saturday while fellow superintendents David Smucker, Mary Ellen Halvorson and Paul Stanton listen.

PRESCOTT - School superintendents from the quad-city area spoke about school cuts during a Saturday morning meeting hosted by the League of Women Voters of Yavapai County.

The panel discussion included Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Dave Smucker, Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Paul Stanton, Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent Duane Howard, and Superintendent Mary Ellen Halvorson with Tri-City Preparatory Academy.

Juliana Goswick, program vice president for the League of Women Voters of Yavapai County, moderated Saturday's discussion at Las Fuentes Resort. More than 50 people - many teachers and former teachers - attended the forum. The meeting began with introductions and background information on the various districts in the area.

In the Prescott Unified School District (PUSD), 109 positions have been cut, said PUSD Superintendent Dave Smucker.

"That's had a huge impact," he said. "We haven't had any money for textbooks other than money we earned from a golf tournament. It provided some books for math students last year. That's been seven years. There is no money. We're having to think differently."

Fifty-four schoolteachers left the PUSD at the end of last year, he said, adding that those positions have been filled.

"Some of that's good and some of that puts a real strain on the system, from a professional development standpoint and being able to support that new teacher so that they are ready on day one, and we all know that doesn't happen that quickly," Smucker said.

Change, he added, can also be good, though many are unfunded federal mandates, such as Race to the Top, which uses the common core curriculum.

"Arizona received Race to the Top funds and said we were going to buy in and we're going to ask all of our school districts to do that," Smucker said. "I think the Prescott Unified School District, in four years, will probably receive $55,000 to carry that out, so there are some issues. I think it's important to understand some of the issues we have in our school system and the support we need from our community."

Humboldt School Superintendent Paul Stanton said the loss of certain federal funds have mostly affected Title 1 students.

"That's where you spend your energy on kids who are struggling. For us in Humboldt, that's kids reading. There's a new law called Move On When Reading. This year, we're supposed to hold back children in the third grade if they can't read at mastery level, so that's hurt us," Stanton said.

At the state level, schools have been cut by approximately 21.8 percent, he said.

"If you had a $100 budget, you're now using $78 of it," he explained. "Arizona was tops in the country with the 21.8 percent cuts. We had to eliminate our custodial staff, our technology staff; we had to get rid of full-day kindergarten, which had a tremendous impact. We had to get rid of assistant principals, librarians - this is over the last five years. We've also had to reduce staff, which has caused our classroom sizes to increase."

Other cuts included healthcare changes, cuts at the district office, and substitute teacher pay.

Chino Valley Superintendent Duane Howard said cuts have also been made in his district over the last several years, resulting in increased class sizes. The school currently operates on a four-day school week.

"They get to do something else over those three days they have off and it usually involves making money," Howard said.

Halvorson said she took a pay cut recently due to cuts in charter schools.

"Charter schools are funded directly by the state. We don't get any local money," she said. "We don't get forest fees money, we don't get any facilities money. When a charter school wants to open, they can't go to the state facilities board and apply for money to build their schools. Charter schools have to build their money out of their average daily membership. If a charter school needs money, charter leaders will take out personal business loans. You put you heart into it and you put your wallet into it too."

Follow reporter Patrick Whitehurst on Twitter @pwdcourier.