Despite approving school closures and pink slips over two budget-cutting years, the TUSD Governing Board has once again declined to make similar choices for its own spending.

Board member Bruce Burke on Tuesday proposed cutting the board's staff from three full-time employees to two, but the proposal failed.

He said other school boards across the state operate with just one full-time staff member.

The Governing Board's director of staff, Mary Alice Wallace, justified the staffing level, saying the Tucson Unified School District board meets more often and handles responsibilities that other board personnel may not. That includes student expulsion matters and support to the board's audit committee.

The board has discussed cutting its own costs before, Burke acknowledged.

"But I think it comes back to us at my request in a very different context than at previous times, and that is that we are now asking and indeed must make substantial cuts to our staffing positions across the district," he said. "The question really for us is - as difficult as this may be - are we going to be leading by example in addition to insisting on cuts in other areas?"

The board's budget for the current year is $234,340. Of that, $209,244 goes for contract salaries for four employees - the director of staff, two senior staff assistants and a courier.

Board members are not paid.

Wallace earns a salary of $70,661. She manages the daily operations of the Governing Board office and serves as a liaison between its members and the superintendent, staff and general public.

The senior staff assistant receives a salary of $62,243. Her duties involve delegating work to the staff, supervising activities associated with the open and executive sessions, implementing board actions, and coordinating and overseeing student discipline, promotion and retention, and appeal-hearing procedure.

Another senior staff assistant provides confidential administrative and secretarial support, as well as monitoring and reconciling the department's budget, making travel arrangements and working on special projects. She earns a salary of $49,987.

Burke noted that cutting people could pay for beginning-teacher positions.

But board President Judy Burns doesn't support Burke's proposal, saying that over the years the board has cut $120,000 from its budget.

"We have eliminated costs; we've cut down on paper; we've cut down on personnel; we don't get as nice of food that we used to get for long board meetings," she said. "Cutting another person is all we have left. . . . I'm sorry. I'm not ready to do that."

She noted that when the Governing Board staff was short one person after Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen announced she was leaving TUSD, board members were unable to receive e-mails sent to the board office because staffers didn't have enough time. She added that the current staff does not charge overtime, instead using flex time and that would not be an option if there were only two staff members.

Other repercussions of cutting the staff, according to Wallace, include:

• Phone calls being forwarded to voice mail and callers being directed to the Governing Board website rather than speaking with a real person.

• Research required in response to requests for public documents being done as time permits.

• Public access to the Governing Board office being limited.

Board member Mark Stegeman agreed that the Governing Board office is running lean. But so is the entire district, he said.

As a result, he supported the proposal in a final vote, but board member Miguel Cuevas, who was recently laid off from his own job, abstained. The proposal failed with "no" votes from Burns and board member Adelita Grijalva.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or