State rep proposes 1.6% school budget cut
Arizona Republic
Jan. 28, 2009

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State Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, will propose that Arizona school districts cut about 1.6 percent from their current budgets when his House Education Committee makes budget recommendations later this week.

For Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in the state, that would mean between $6 million and $7 million in cuts.

Crandall, a former Mesa school board president, said the committee's proposal will give administrators freedom in where to make cuts.

Earlier this month, the two legislative appropriations committee chairmen proposed cutting billions from the state deficit by axing such cherished education programs as all-day kindergarten, among many others.

"That has zero chance of ever being approved," Crandall told the East Valley School Boards Consortium in Mesa Monday night.

The public outcry against slashing educational programs has gotten louder. On Sunday, Florence Unified Superintendent Gary Nine organized a demonstration that attracted more than 1,500 people outside the State Capitol to protest the two chairmen's proposed budget cuts.

State lawmakers must cut about $1.6 billion from the current state budget and an estimated $2.2 billion in 2010.

Crandall, the former Mesa school board president, outlined three main areas of the House Education Committee's proposal to cut $100 million from districts' current, or 2008-09, budgets.


  Most of the money will come from what's called "soft capital," which goes toward buying textbooks, computers and buses, among others, and any legislative strings would be cut giving administrators more freedom in making the cuts.


  Crandall called the state's new English-language learner model, which requires ELL students be taught English four hours per day, an "unfunded mandate" and the proposal will call for the state Department of Education to take it easy on districts trying to start the new model.


  Since lawmakers approved full-day kindergarten in 2006, the Legislature has had to vote each year to allow districts to exceed their spending limit. Crandall said there is a March 1 deadline for the approval, which the House Education Committee proposal will take into account.

School administrators from 11 southeast Valley districts met Monday night at the Mesa school board room. The group meets quarterly to discuss education topics.

Crandall's remarks served as an opportunity to highlight his efforts, along with the other members on the education committee, to minimize cuts to K-12 education and reduce some of what he called "misinformation" resulting from the two appropriations proposals. His proposal will be available Thursday on the new Web site called educateaz.org.

The House education proposal also needs to be approved by the Senate and the governor, so another version may ultimately be approved.

Crandall said he's optimistic the state's $2.2 billion deficit for 2010 will be reduced once millions from the Federal Stimulus Package comes to Arizona.

When asked about the possibility of raising taxes this year to reduce the deficit, Crandall replied, "We only have five months. You can't raise taxes in five months."

In addition to state cuts, Mesa school administrators also must deal with enrollment declines of about 1,900 students this year, which means about $5,000 less per student.

Superintendent Debra Duvall said the district may have to lay off some of its 11,000 employees next year, but will do everything possible to protect teachers.

She's already ordered a hiring freeze and cut travel for the year, along with other cost-cutting measures in anticipation of the state reductions.

Duvall added that all districts must wait until the final numbers come from the Legislature.

"A big part (of the House Education Committee proposal) is that it allows us to figure out where we want to make the cuts," Duvall said.