TUSD to talk new cuts to repair budget

2012-07-02T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:44:11Z TUSD to talk new cuts to repair budgetAlexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 02, 2012 12:00 am  • 

School closures, staff and program reductions and pay cuts will once again be discussed at the TUSD Governing Board meeting tonight in an effort to address a looming budget shortfall.

No action is expected by the board because the issue is up for study only. The board is expected to make its recommendations at the July 10 meeting.

Tonight's meeting will be the third time the subject is discussed in public following a May meeting in which TUSD's chief financial officer, Yousef Awwad, said the district is facing an "alarming" financial outlook.

A continuing decrease in enrollment of about 1,500 students a year, coupled with a projected $17 million deficit for the 2013-2014 school year, means the cost to run Tucson's largest school district is greater than its revenue.

In past meetings, TUSD staff members laid out options for the board, including an 8 percent salary cut across the district, cutting more than 300 teachers, increasing class sizes and reducing programs.

However, the option that appears to have the most traction with the administration is not only closing schools but building newer, larger ones - an expense that TUSD could ask taxpayers to cover through a bond election.

Superintendent John Pedicone said the new schools would be good not only from a financial standpoint but academically as well.

TUSD has not indicated how many or which schools would be closed if the board decides to go in that direction.

However, Pedicone has said the east side may be affected the most since that is the area that's seen the largest decline in students.

That was also the case two years ago when the board approved the closure of nine schools, seven of them east of Columbus Boulevard.

The loss in students districtwide has been attributed to a decrease in the number of school-age children living within TUSD boundaries, flight to charter schools, the downturn in the economy and a change in immigration policies.

Board member Michael Hicks said he is opposed to school closures, and especially to any more on the east side.

Though Hicks would like the administration to focus on drawing in more students, Awwad has said that even if the district were to fill all of its empty seats - currently 13,000 - the cost to operate would still exceed revenue by about $11 million.

"I can say I want to keep schools open. I don't want a reduction in staff, and I want to get more kids into the district, but anything more than that it's hard to comment," said Hicks, who acknowledged that he doesn't have a solution to the shortfall. "I'm not thrilled with any of the options. We just did this two years ago. It makes me lose confidence in the administration."

TUSD board member Mark Stegeman has not decided what option he will support, but he said he has an idea of what makes him uncomfortable.

"I don't want to increase class sizes - that should be off of the table," Stegeman said, adding that he is not convinced that staff cuts beyond what is done now for shrinking enrollment are necessary, nor are severe program cuts.

Though Stegeman said he recognizes there is a need to look at closures, he said he can't imagine supporting a "big wave" of them based on past experience, saying it was hard for staff to manage the processes effectively.

One possibility that hasn't been addressed by TUSD staff is that of converting smaller, successful elementary schools into district-run charter schools, which would bring in about $1,000 more per pupil in state funding, Stegeman said.

On StarNet: Read more TUSD news and find other education-related resources at azstarnet.com/education

Pedicone ideas

TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone's recommendations:

Create optimal-sized schools by identifying three or four under-enrolled schools and schools built for small number of students.

One site would be selected among the group that has the most appealing location and campus size, and that site would be razed to build a school that would support more students.

The optimal-sized elementary school would serve 400 to 650 students. At the middle school level, it would serve 750 to 1,000 students. High schools would serve 1,400 to 3,000 students.

If you go

The TUSD board meeting is at 6:30 tonight at 1010 E. 10th Street.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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