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Teacher pink slips may not be last word

Citizen Staff Writer



Many of the hundreds of Tucson Unified School District employees who will receive pink slips Friday may not end up losing their jobs.

The massive layoff – an exact number has not been released – will be based on a possible $63 million in cuts from the state, an estimate that could be less in the months to come.

Teachers must be informed in April each year if there is a chance they will not be rehired.

Bonnie Betz, TUSD’s chief financial officer, said the cuts probably will be more in the area of $45 million to $48 million instead of $63 million.

“But $63 million is the worst-case amount that we got from the state Legislature,” said TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Hill Lander. “It’s the number the chairman of the state Senate Education Committee gave us.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Raúl Grijalva has released information that lists TUSD among 11 Arizona school districts that will receive emergency education funding to help maintain programs for low-income students and students with disabilities.

Those funds could help save some jobs related to educating low-income and disabled students, but would not be available for anyone else.

“If we do use some of these special education funds, we might be able to have some maintenance and operations budget carry-over money for next year, and that might save some jobs,” Lander said.

TUSD’s share of the stimulus package is expected to be close to $21 million in Title I funds for low-income student programs and almost $13 million in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funds for programs for students with disabilities.

The funding is only for two years, Lander said.

“So even if we did use some of that money to pay for some teachers, we’d have to find a new funding source two years from now,” she said.

TUSD’s preliminary plan is to use some of the stimulus money for staff development and for assistive devices for disabled students, Lander said.

“The federal government has not fully funded special education – or exceptional education as we call it – for years,” she said. “The stimulus funds are one way of addressing that shortfall.”

TUSD is expecting the money by the end of April, Lander said.

Arizona will get $1.4 billion in the first of two installments of the funding. The second installment will be in the fall, Grijalva said.

Other area school districts getting this funding are:

• Amphitheater Public Schools: about $3.2 million in Title I and $3.2 in IDEA funds.

• Flowing Wells Unified School District: nearly $800,000 in Title I and $1 million in IDEA funds.

• Sunnyside Unified School District: $6.2 million in Title I and $3.1million in IDEA funds.

The money was expected to be released starting Wednesday.

However, school officials are still worried.

Trying to avert some panic by school districts about the worst-case scenario budget cut figures, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Tuesday, “There are still a lot of uncertainties, and estimates are dangerous.

“However, some school districts have overreacted, and are planning to send out notices for layoffs of teachers based on assumed 60 percent budget cuts, which are way out of proportion to anything that can be reasonably anticipated,” he said.

“These excessive layoff notices can create unnecessary panic and consternation,” Horne said, “and can adversely affect the quality of education by damaging the morale of teachers who, in the final analysis, would not lose their jobs.”

Horne said under federal law, the state can “cut no more than $867 million and still receive stimulus funds. If they do cut $867 million, and all the stimulus funds available are used in 2010, then that would leave an effective cut of about $196 million for K-12 and higher education combined.”

“Let us assume K-12 takes the entire cut, and higher education takes none, which is probably unrealistic,” he said.

“The overall state education budget is about $5 billion from the state, $3 billion from local sources, and $1 billion from the federal government, for a total of $9 billion,” he said.

“A cut of $196 million would therefore be about a 2 percent cut of the total K-12 education budget. In addition, some districts face larger cuts because of override failures or declining enrollment.”

But TUSD’s Betz said, “Mr. Horne is talking about a 2 percent reduction to the ‘base’ funding. He’s not considering the impact of loss of excess utilities, loss of student count, increases in health benefits costs, increase in exceptional education costs, increase in worker’s compensation and a yet-unknown increase in unemployment benefits.”

Also, she said, “the 2 percent reduction is in reference to the already reduced $7.3 million for TUSD that was realized in the current year.”

“The estimate we received (March 31 from the state Legislature) is $244 per student for 2010. In 2009, the money amount is estimated to be $328 a student and in 2008, it was $401 per student,” Betz said. “With our loss in students, this decrease is very significant for TUSD – $10 million from the 2009 projection – and over $6 million considering the new revision of $328 per student.”

Betz said there are decreases in:

• excess utilities: $8 to $9 million

• loss of students: $9.3 million

• increase in health benefits and worker’s compensation: $2.7 million

• increase in special education costs: $3 to $4 million

• loss in Proposition 301 monies for teacher merit pay: $6.2 million

“Without any decrease in general fund funding, TUSD already has to make up over $30 million, Betz said. “Tom Horne says not to panic but the Arizona Association for Business Officials and the Arizona School Boards Association say to be conservative.”

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