Districts face leaner times after failure of Prop. 204

TUSD bracing for a $17M deficit, which could mean school closures
2012-11-09T00:00:00Z Districts face leaner times after failure of Prop. 204Jamar Younger, Phil Villarreal and Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson-area school districts will likely face some tough times ahead after Proposition 204, which would have allocated money for education, failed at the polls.

School districts are now preparing for possible layoffs, increased class sizes and, in some cases, school closures after voters defeated the measure Tuesday night.

The proposition would have continued a 1-cent sales tax that would've earmarked money primarily for education, with some of the money going to transportation projects and other uses. The temporary sales tax will expire on May 31.

Opponents of the measure portrayed it as a permanent tax increase that didn't mandate money to teachers or the classroom.

However, supporters, which included school board members and superintendents, said their districts would suffer if the measure wasn't approved.

Now the districts will wait for the Legislature to make its budget and hope that lawmakers at least maintain the current level of funding.

Lawmakers have said the state has a budget surplus, which they said lessened the need for Prop. 204.

TUSD

"We're going to get as much information as we can and make every effort to know the decisions the Legislature might make," said Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone.

TUSD is facing at least a $17 million budget deficit for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Pedicone said.

Focus groups created by the district have been working for months to close the budget gap, creating a "School Master Plan" for the district.

The plan includes three scenarios that include school closures, and teacher and administrative layoffs while looking to increase student achievement.

Measures to improve student achievement include professional development, technology upgrades and teacher raises.

TUSD officials are waiting for the district's governing board to approve criteria it would use as a guideline to choose what schools to close.

If the board approves the criteria at its Tuesday meeting, the district will then pick a list of schools and look to initiate closures, Pedicone said.

Officials would ask the board for approval to initiate closures later this month before organizing public hearings, he said.

Pedicone said he hopes the district makes a quick decision so it can address the community and prepare properly for the closures, he said.

"We want to reduce anxiety and not leave schools hanging in the air," he said.

The district also would have to submit the plan for school closures to a federal court to ensure the plan would meet the district's desegregation objectives.

The district is under a desegregation order to ensure racial balance in its schools.

WIDESPREAD EFFECTS

Other districts are waiting until they know their next fiscal year's budgets before commenting on the impact of Prop. 204's failure.

However, the Flowing Wells Unified School District could face a 10 percent cut to its budget if the district is not allowed to maintain its current funding level.

"If we are cut by the amount of money this tax would have continued to generate, it could equal close to $600 per student, which would translate to $3 million in our budget," Flowing Wells Superintendent Nicholas Clement said in an email. "There is no way we could sustain a cut of this size without dealing with cuts in personnel, resulting in larger class sizes and a reduction in staffing and services."

The Marana and Amphitheater districts also said there will be financial implications.

"The Marana Unified School District is disappointed that Prop. 204 did not pass; it is unfortunate for public education in Arizona. Stable funding is critically necessary in meeting public education needs; therefore, we are hopeful that the state Legislature will work on behalf of public education to restore funding," said Tamara Crawley, a Marana Unified School District spokeswoman.

Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo of the Sunnyside Unified School District, said, "Proposition 204 not passing means that there won't be any restoration of funding that's been cut by the state.

"For Sunnyside, it would have restored $9 million to $12 million. Sunnyside's maintenance and operations budget this year is $13 million less than it was five years ago," said Isquierdo.

Eighty-five percent of Sunnyside's budget goes for employees' pay and benefits, he said.

"Our immediate concern is our override measure," said Isquierdo, referring to a 15 percent maintenance and operations budget override that appears to have been defeated by voters Tuesday - 53 percent to 47 percent - in unofficial results.

"We have to step back, convene our new board and begin discussing with staff and the community our next steps," Isquierdo said.

In the past, Sunnyside officials said if the override failed, it would mean staff and program cuts.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

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