Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Secrecy on state budget hurts TUSD’s ability to plan

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

Imagine trying to draw up a household budget without knowing how much money you have to spend – and without knowing when you’ll know how much money you have to spend.

It would be an impossible task.

Now imagine trying to do the same thing with a complex, multimillion-dollar budget for a school district, and you have some idea of the awesome charge facing the Tucson Unified School District.

Officials in TUSD – and in all other school districts in Arizona – are starting to draw up budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

They know they will be getting less money from the state as legislators whittle away at deficits that could total $4.5 billion this year and next.

But how much less is not known. And despite promises of an open process, the budget is being drawn up in a series of secret meetings, making it even more difficult for school districts to move forward.

Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, TUSD superintendent, said the district could be hit with cuts of as little as $20 million – or as crushing as $80 million. Anything above the lowest amount would deeply hurt services in a district that already is financially pinched.

To make matters worse, the Legislature may take away money already appropriated for the current fiscal year, wiping out what little cushion TUSD has been able to build up.

The Legislature has been in session for almost three weeks and had promised to tackle the budget before doing anything else. But it has been difficult to know exactly what is going on in the Capitol.

After budgets were drawn up in secret the past few years, the new Republican leadership had promised a new approach this year. “This is going to be the most transparent budget in a long time,” House Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, promised this month.

Not so much.

In the Senate, private meetings were held to gather support for a budget. Senate President Bob Burns, R-Peoria, said the closed meetings were to “get rid of any problems that members might have” – without explaining why that couldn’t be done in the open.

Democrats have been largely shut out and even some Republicans are getting frustrated. This week, Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, pleaded for “a sneak peek” but was denied.

This secrecy, which apparently will produce a completed budget that is a fait accompli, is not the way to do the people’s business.

New Republican leaders in the Legislature promised a transparent budget process. But it’s the same old secrecy.

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