Despite slashing $13 million from its budget, Mesa Unified School District will still increase its spending by more than $1 million to keep up with rising costs. But after the district's governing board unanimously approved a proposed 2008-09 budget Tuesday evening, one big question remained will its teachers get raises?
The district set its proposed budget at about $620.5 million, meaning that between now and the time the board must adopt a final budget on July 8, the district cannot increase the total.
District officials can, however, make other changes and cuts in the proposed budget.
Kirk Hinsey, president of the Mesa Education Association, said teachers do not know how much they will see in terms of an increase in their pay next year, or if they will see an increase at all.
"But our understanding throughout the meet-and-confer process has been that many of these cuts are being made in order to ensure that the Proposition 301 money will go to teachers," he said.
Proposition 301 is a 2 percent, or cost-of-inflation, tax passed by voters and allocated to schools to be spent on specific items related to teachers. It usually ensures teachers get at least a 2 percent raise.
Superintendent Debra Duvall said reaching the budget's $6 million figure was a long process full of tough decisions.
"As we developed our budget this year, our goal was to achieve multiyear fiscal responsibility while maintaining the ability for our youngsters to have access to resources and programs," Duvall said.
"But we have no control over our costs for things like air conditioning," she said.
George Zeigler, district finance chief, said this year, more than any other, the Mesa district had the community, board and administration working toward budget solutions.
He said two of the biggest issues at play in the district's money problems are its continued decrease in enrollment 2 percent last year and the unknowns associated with how much funding the Legislature will allocate to schools.
In addition to decreases in the enrollment, increased costs on everything from food and transportation to special education, health care and utilities meant the district had to make big changes, Duvall said.
Those changes included eliminating more than 100 positions, many by not filling vacancies and phasing out certified school librarians within three years and replacing them with resource-center specialists, as well as eliminating some aides and media specialists in school libraries and media centers.
School nurses also will be affected. Over the next three years, Mesa will no longer fill vacancies when nurses retire or resign at any of its 87 schools.
Instead, those nurses will be replaced by full-time health assistants, while remaining nurses will take on the broader role of "health consultant," providing services at more than one school.
Other cuts being proposed include phasing out the teenage pregnancy program and reducing funds allocated to purchase new textbooks, among several other items.