Schools chief says changes, cuts ahead
Arizona Republic
March 26, 2008


Ray Parker

Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Debra Duvall has a message for the district's nearly 9,000 employees: Change is coming.

Grappling with an estimated $15 million to $20 million deficit next year, Duvall has made a second DVD that will be shown in schools this week.

In it, the district chief says cuts will be considered in all areas, emphasizing and defining the word "consider."

"(My message is an) effort to quell rumors, not create them," Duvall says on the DVD, which was shown Monday during contract negotiations between the district and union officials.

Duvall was referring to concerns expressed at the meeting that the district will reduce nursing, psychology or speech staff at schools. But Duvall says in her message that all areas, including administration, are being considered for cuts.

Duvall and her team already knew this year they must cut more than $7 million because of a decline of about 1,500 students. That also means about 170 fewer employee contracts.

Even so, officials said they did not think anyone would lose their job, primarily because of additional openings and retirements.

"They may work at a different place, but I don't think they're going to lose their job," board member David Lane said in an interview.

There also is a proposal to close Jordan Elementary and move students to two nearby schools, saving about $800,000 in the first year, mostly in administrative costs. The governing board will vote on the closure April 22.

District officials estimate having to cut about $20 million in the upcoming budget year, which begins July 1, because of:

 Declines in student enrollment, meaning less money from the state.

 The costs of teaching students English.

 Increased costs of food, gas and other supplies, among other rising expenses.

Joe Thomas, spokesman for the Mesa Education Association, which represents about 4,500 district employees, said the district budget will ultimately be up to the Legislature, criticizing lawmakers for ranking Arizona at the bottom of the nation in funding for students.

"With the way they have operated in the past, we should know our budget around this summer," Thomas said.