The Gilbert Unified School District expects more savings and revenues next year than anticipated, which could help the district with its expected $6 million shortfall, Superintendent Dave Allison told the governing board April 9.
“I kept pushing, ‘find some money, find some money.’ They’ve been working very hard,” Allison said.
The district expects to have at least $6 million less next year because voters turned down renewal of its budget override in November. In Arizona, public schools are funded by the state based on enrollment. School districts can ask voters to tax themselves more to provide additional money. That “budget override” is in place for up to seven years, but requires renewal, which Gilbert voters did not approve last year.
On April 9, Allison told the board the district will save close to $916,000 in utility costs because of efforts at schools and installation of energy-saving measures. The district also expects to receive $300,000 more from the East Valley Institute of Technology next year because more high school students are expected to take career and technical training school classes.
With that in mind, Allison presented two budget ideas to the governing board April 9 based on Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget proposal for the state next year.
The district was going to cut 2 percent of salaries next year for staff and teachers with the override loss. However, additional money is available because of a state error and increased sales tax revenues earmarked for teachers. So in both of Allison’s proposals the district would not cut that 2 percent cut from teachers.
Allison presented a second budget would allow staff and administration to also keep that 2 percent of their salaries. But that budget is not balanced, yet. If the governing board goes with that idea, the Gilbert district still needs to find $2.1 million.
“It’s getting tight. We’ve cut our budget quite a bit over the last five years. It looked like we received a little more money this year, but we’re still in dire straits. There’s not much out there to cut. But we’re doing our best,” Allison said.
Both options presented would not have a net increase on the total tax rate for the district’s property owners, said Teddy Dumlao, the district’s director of finance.
At the next meeting, Allison said he plans to present a budget scenario where the district’s primary property tax rate is not raised.
To help find additional savings, board member Julie Smith recommended April 9 that the district go forward with a community budget committee idea to have parents pay for full-day kindergarten. It is offered now at no charge to parents, though the district only receives funds for half-day kindergarten.
Most school districts in the East Valley offer tuition-free kindergarten. Previous discussions by the Gilbert school board to charge tuition were met negatively by most of the community.
Smith would also like to see the district put classroom aides back into kindergarten classes. Aides were cut in the last few years with the decrease in funding from the state during the recession.
Board member Jill Humpherys did not like the kindergarten idea.
“Those kindergartners are doing things I did in first and second grade and they are required by law to be reading by third grade. Many, many parents want their children to have full-day kindergarten because there’s so much they want to accomplish, that they can’t do that in half day. I believe having less than full-day kindergarten available would not be an academically sound thing to do for our students,” she said.
Lily Tram said she believed the district would lose a lot of students if the district didn’t offer full-day kindergarten for free.
In the East Valley, the Higley Unified School District governing board approved cutting seven job positions next year because of its expected budget short fall. Other school districts are still working on budget proposals.
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