Tucson Unified School District could see $20 million to $80 million in funding slashed from its budget this year and next based on early proposals by Arizona legislators.
Twenty million would be “devastating,” $80 million, “catastrophic,” TUSD Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen said at an editorial board meeting at the Tucson Citizen on Monday
Fagen said representatives from the TUSD board and employee groups soon would discuss budget scenarios. Employee salaries and benefits usually account for about 90 percent of school district budgets.
District employees received no raises last year.
“We’re probably going to have to do budgets based on $20 million in cuts, $30 million, all the way to $80 million,” said Fagen, who has been at the helm for less than a year.
Last year at this time, then-district Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said the district anticipated a $15 million to $20 million deficit.
He suggested closing four schools to make up for some of the shortfall.
The board ultimately decided against school closures, and new budget and finance officials work with the board’s suggestions and balanced this year’s budget.
Fagen said if the district gets to keep the budget money promised from the state for this fiscal year, the budget will be in the black.
“If the state takes money from this year, it would wipe out our carryover and then some,” she said.
TUSD’s maintenance and operations budget for this year is about $362 million; its total budget is about $578 million.
The superintendent said while TUSD’s numbers are huge because of its size – it has about 55,750 students plus 1,100 in preschool – budget cuts will be just as catastrophic for other districts.
“I know all-day kindergarten could be a loss (around the state),” she said.
Fagen said it was too early to say where most deep cuts might be made.
“We’re going into the hiring season,” she said. “This impacts every aspect of our work.”
The superintendent said districts need a definitive answer from the Legislature.
She decried that education (K-12 and college) – which makes up about 43 percent of the state general fund – had to be hit so hard in a state that is 49th in the nation in funding K-12 education.
“Even if we got funding equal to 25th in the nation,” Fagen said, “that would mean $100 million more just to our district alone.”